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September 2012 




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beginning P .20 . 


Observe the Full Moon! P 54 

Deef>sky wonders in Cepheus p. 52 
Bob Berman on flje limits of tfufh p. 10 

Vol. 40 • Issue 9 

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This Month in Astronomy AStrODOITIV 

The Queen 

"A Kind of Magic" Contest 

by David J. Eicher 

If you flip to page 26, you'll see my story 
"Brian May: A life in science and music." 
The Queen guitarist, singer, and song- 
writer is also a Ph.D. astrophysicist and a 
member of Astronomy's Editorial Advisory 
Board. Brians life story is thus unique — a 
tale of working on the motions of dust par- 
ticles in the solar system interrupted by 
30-plus years of rock 'n roll, with a return 
to finish his dissertation. 

The story in this issue is the first time 
Brian May's life has been described wherein 
astronomy and worldwide musical success 
have an equal footing. (And you can read a 
much longer, 8,500-word version of the 
story online at 

To celebrate the occasion, Brian and 
Astronomy magazine are holding an event. 
The Brian May/Queen "A Kind of Magic" 
Contest is open from August 1 through 
September 1, 2012. As I've described, Brian 
left his nearly finished doctoral degree on 
the table when Queen began achieving 
huge success and set off on an aggressive 
schedule of making albums and touring. 
Brians returning and finishing his Ph.D. is 
a rarity, only possible because the subject 
hadn't changed a lot over the previous 
three decades. 

I don't know what each of you does, but 
most readers of Astronomy are not Ph.D. 
astronomers. Whatever your occupation, I 
want you to think creatively. Contest 
entrants will submit a short essay to the 
magazine that describes what they would 

do — what would the subject be and why? 
— if they could magically go back to school 
and earn a doctoral degree in astronomy. 

How would you change the astronomy 
world? What research subject would entice 
you? Planetary science? Cosmology? Gal- 
axy investigations? And what specifically 
would you take on as a line of research? 
(And for those of you who are Ph.D.s and 
want to enter, you simply can imagine what 
you might do if you got a second degree in 
a different area of research. Ha!) 

The two best essays will win a prize for 
the writers — an autographed copy of Brian 
May's Ph.D. dissertation, A Survey of Radial 
Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud, which 
was published by Springer- Verlag in 2008. 
For full details on the contest and to enter, 

The contest's name, of course, comes 
from the hit song "A Kind of Magic" from 
Queen's album of the same name, released 
in 1986. The accompanying huge-scale 
Magic Tour would be the last with all four 
band members. Of the tour, Brian says, "We 
just had it right and felt that finally we 
knew how to play live, we knew how to 
connect with the audience. It all just felt 
like joy. I think it was the best I've ever 
played. And Freddie Mercury was magnifi- 
cent in those times; the perfect athlete, the 
perfect front man, the perfect link to the 
audience. I just remember it as being a blur 
of good feelings." You can see the choice 
show from this tour on the DVD Queen 
Live at Wembley Stadium. 

For more on Queen and on Brian's 
astronomy, check out the story on page 26. 

Yours truly, 


Editor David J. Eicher 

Art Director LuAnn Williams Belter 


Senior Editors Michael E. Bakich, Richard Talcott 

Associate Editors Bill Andrews, Liz Kruesi 

Assistant Editor Karri Ferron 

Editorial Associate Valerie Penton 


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O'Meara.Tom Polakis, Martin Ralcliffe, Mike D. Reynolds, 
Sheldon Reynolds, John Shibley, Raymond Shubinski 


Buzz Aldrin, Marcia Bartusiak, Timothy Ferns, Alex Filippenko, 
Adam Frank, John S. Gallagher III, Daniel W. E. Green, William K. 
Hartmann, Paul Hodge, Anne L Kinney, Edward Kolb, 
Stephen P. Maran, Brian May, S. Alan Stern, James Trefil 

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6 Astronomy- September 2012 






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VOL.40, NO. 9 


20 Quest for the most 
distant objects 4! 

The search for the first 
structures in the universe 
has baffled astronomers for 
decades. But telescopes now on 
the horizon promise to shed 
new light, adam frank 

26 Brian May: A life in 
science and music 'it 

You know him best as guitarist, singer, and 
songwriter from the rock group Queen, 
but Brian May is also a Ph.D. astronomer, 
popularizer of the cosmos, stereophotography 
enthusiast, and advocate for animal rights. 

36 The Sky this Month 

Uranus reaches its peak, martin ratcliffe and alister ling 

38 StarDome and Path of the planets 


44 Black holes in our backyard ® 

Black holes are the most astounding objects in the universe. And at least 19 of them lurk 
within the Milky Way. RICHARD TALCOTT 

50 Ask Astro 

Determining direction. 

52 Wander the wonders of the King's constellation 

Cepheus contains enough star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies to keep you observing a long 


54 You should observe the Full Moon! 4) 

Mountains and lava plains, rays, and a hint of color invite exploring a bright Moon. 

56 Astronomy's third annual Star Products 

Get ready to ogle some amazing equipment as we honor the 35 best telescopes, cameras, 
and accessories produced in the past year. PHIL HARRINGTON 

Astronomy (ISSN 0091-6358, USPS 531-350) is published monthly 
by Kalmbach Publishing Co., 21027 Crossroads Circle, P. 0. Box 1612, 
Waukesha, Wl 53187-1612. Periodicals postage paid at Waukesha, 
Wl, and additional offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to 
Astronomy, 21027 Crossroads Circle, P. 0. Box 1612, Waukesha, Wl 
53187-1612. Canada Publication Mail Agreement #40010760. 

Visit for bonus 
material — it's exclusive to Astronomy 
magazine subscribers. 




beginning. < ( ; 


Astronomers are in a race to find 
the first structures that formed. 
These aren't the huge galaxies 
of today, but instead smaller and 
simpler protogalaxies. 


10 Strange Universe 

Believe it? 

12 Observing Basics 

Lunar letters. 

64 Secret Sky 

M82: The "marquee" galaxy. 

66 Imaging the Cosmos 

How I take pictures. 


8 Letters 

Important numbers. 

9 Web Talk 
14 Astro News 

Faint jets suggest past Milky 

Way activity. 

Historic launch to ISS. 

Found: a star that vaporizes 

its world. 

Astro Confidential: 

David J. McComas. 

65 New Products 

70 Advertiser Index 

71 Reader Gallery 
74 The Cosmic Grid 

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We welcome your comments at Astronomy Letters, P. O. Box 1612, 
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for space and clarity. 



After reading "The 6 most important numbers 
in the universe" (June 2012), I thought I'd 
share a story from my youth. Several "tens 
of years ago," I was taught to reduce numbers to 
powers of 10 to estimate an answer. I was told 
to express each number as a single digit and its 
power of 10 — adding powers to multiply and 
subtracting them to divide, then doing the sin- 
gle digit in my head. I learned that if I got the 
right power of 10, the maximum I could be off 
is 10 percent and I'd be within 90 percent of 
correct. And it works. Sadly, nobody estimates 
anymore — they use calculators. — Alan Dooley, Waterloo, Illinois 

Conspicuous by its absence in your set of important numbers in the June issue is e 
(e = 2.7182818 ...), the base of natural logarithms. By itself, that value doesn't seem 
very impressive, but the constant permeates nature: It appears in the way a pot of 
coffee (or anything else) cools off, how radioactive materials decay, how heat spreads, 
how interest (and bacteria and populations) grow, and how a chain hangs. The con- 
stant e is part of the nature of waves, spirals, and attenuation of light or sound; those 
are just a few examples. I would bet that in any textbook about thermodynamics, 
(astro)physics, chemistry, engineering, etc., you will encounter e before you see n for 
the first time. — Hans Schroeder, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 


Simon Stevin in 7586 

Space exploration 

I just want to thank you for printing the 
article of Brian May's speech at the STAR- 
MUS Festival in the Canary Islands ("What 
are we doing in space?" February 2012). 
In a world where politicians seem to dis- 
cuss everything but real issues, it was 
refreshing to read his intelligent and elo- 
quent words about the current state of our 
planet before we explore (and desecrate!) 
others. The article covered such a variety 
of social and political issues that are com- 
pletely relevant to the continuation of our 
investigation of other planets. 

It seemed like he was hesitant to give 
the speech, and I would love to know how 
it was received. Brian, thank you for the 
courage you showed by putting your opin- 
ion out there. You are well-versed in both 
music and science, and that is truly a 
unique set of talents, but even more sig- 
nificant is that you are also a conscientious 

human being who cares about Earth and 
the life that inhabits it. Keep talking — 
some of us are listening. — Kevin Whitson, 

Wood Dale, Illinois 

It was interesting to contrast the articles on 
future space exploration by a pessimistic 
Brian May and an optimistic Robert Zim- 
merman ("Will we go back to the Moon?") 
in the February issue. (I'll note that May 
ended on a guardedly hopeful tone.) I think 
reality will show itself to be somewhere in 
between their views. We'll go into space 
with all of our baggage eventually following 
us, unless deliberate steps are taken to con- 
trol that. — Spence Blakely, Portsmouth, Rhode Island 


The reference to LEGOs in the June 2012 
Cosmic Grid (page 74) states the wrong 
country of origin: The LEGO company is 
based in Denmark. — Astronomy editors 

W^ Web Talk 

What's by Karri Ferron 

I Featured video 

'Tour the solar system: Uranus" 

Uranus, everyone's favorite 
oddball planet, reaches 
opposition in September, 
making now the best time 
to view and photograph it. 
But what do scientists know 
about this blue-green world 
that seems to roll around 
the Sun on its side? Associ- 
ate Editor Liz Kruesi pro- 
vides an overview in "Tour 
the solar system: Uranus.'The first planet discovered in modern times, 
Uranus is an enigma in our planetary neighborhood. In the video, 
Kruesi provides the basic parameters of the world; explains how scien- 
tists think it ended up with a rotation axis nearly parallel to its orbit; 
explores its ring system, family of moons, and atmosphere; and more. 
This video and all others in the Tour the solar system series are avail- 
able to registered members Registration is free and 
easy, so sign up today and head to 
to learn more about this oddball planet. 




Get to know the night sky 

Interested in observing? Visit's "Get to know the night 
sky" for tons of information geared toward beginners. There, Senior Edi- 
tor Richard Talcott helps you become familiar with the constellations 
and teaches you how to use star charts and the online StarDome. 
Senior Editor Michael E. Bakich also guides you through constellation 
pronunciations and offers 10 easy steps to become an observer. Finally, 
you'll find easy targets you can locate from your backyard tonight. Start 
your astronomy adventure now at 


Reader Photo Gallery 

Visit to 
browse members' images of the year's top 
celestial events, like this one of the May 
201 2 annular eclipse from Tom Bash. 

The Astronomy Foundation 

Visit for easy-to-follow 
outreach advice from the nonprofit organization whose goal is to share 
the wonders of the universe with a greater audience. 

for access to bonus articles, photos, videos, and more. 



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by Bob Berman 

Believe it? 

Sometimes the truth is just what you have the space and time to explain. 

I'm a liar. I can't help it. Each page I write 
has something wrong to a degree and 
— no surprise — readers often catch on. 
"Two months ago, you wrote that the solar 
system is heading toward the star Deneb in 
Cygnus. But my textbook says we're actu- 
ally moving toward Vega in Lyra." 

That person was right. But so was I. 
How can two conflicting statements both 
be correct? That's this month's subject. 

The Milky Way's rotation swiftly carries 
the Sun and Earth toward Deneb. However, 
if one merely considers the 200 nearest 
stars around us in space, we have a separate 
little motion relative to them. This slow 
sideways drift is toward Vega; some say the 
constellation Hercules. Years ago, scientists 
only knew that local motion. 

The problem — and it never ends — is 
limited space. If science writers pause to 
fully explain such facts, we'll never get to 
the point of the article. Hence, much that 
appears in science magazines is true in just 
one sense. Falsehoods include the simplest 
"facts" everyone thinks they know. 

For example, we say Earth rotates in 24 
hours. However, our planet actually spins 
in 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4.1 seconds. 
The discrepancy isn't caused by rounding 
off. Clocks are deliberately built to include 
an extra few minutes of spin. This com- 
pensates for Earth's orbital path, which 
places the Sun toward a new direction 
each day. If we want Sol to always be high- 
est when clocks say noon, we must let 
Earth spin once completely and then add 
an extra 3 minutes and 55.9 seconds of 
rotation. Only then will we face the Sun at 
the same clock time the next day. Time- 
pieces were thus designed to keep our lives 
aligned with the Sun. Don't imagine that 
they register our actual rotation. 

The sky is blue, right? Well, buy a spec- 
troscope on eBay. This wonderful instru- 
ment reveals what's really in the light we 


Browse the "Strange Universe" archive 

see. Point it at the daytime heavens. Bam 
— all the colors of the rainbow. Vivid 
greens and oranges come from the sky. Its 
composition resembles sunlight, but with 
red scattering four times less than blue, the 
latter color is visually dominant. So it's not 
strictly correct to say, "The sky is blue." It 
would be better to say, "The sky looks blue." 

But that's probably too picky. After all, 
we happily say, "The Sun is rising," despite 
knowing that "the horizon is falling" would 
be more accurate. We don't want to sound 
stilted or obnoxious. Still, shouldn't we 
draw the line when a statement is more 
wrong than right? 

Much that appears in 
science magazines is 
true in just one sense. 

Consider the expanding universe. Cos- 
mic expansion would seem as straightfor- 
ward as blowing up a party balloon. 
Actually, it's not like that at all. Turns out, 
the cosmos inflates only on the largest 
scales, which itself is odd. Within solar sys- 
tems, star clusters, individual galaxies, and 
among all the stars visible in the night sky, 
there's no expansion whatsoever. You could 
travel 3 million light-years and not encoun- 
ter the slightest hint of expansion. As a 
result, people are seriously puzzled. They 
ask how galaxies can possibly collide if the 
universe is expanding. Such confusion 
arises because we rarely mention that an 
"expanding universe" doesn't apply to each 
cluster of galaxies and all its contents. 

Another oft-repeated fact is that light has 
a constant speed. It's true in a vacuum. But it 
goes 25 percent slower through most liquids, 
which is why a spoon seems bent in a half- 
glass of water. But is light really slower then? 
Kind of. It does take longer to pass through 
water. However, light photons still move at 

In water, light 

travels 25 

percent slower 

than it would in a 

vacuum, making a spoon appear bent in a glass 

of the liquid. But does that mean light doesn't 

have a Constant Speed? Hemera/Thinkstock 

their previous superfast speed between water 
molecules. They're absorbed and then re- 
radiated only when they hit atoms, and this 
process takes a bit of time. So are photons 
really moving slower within water or not? 

Such nuances can't be clarified in a few 
words. If I fully explain, any article will read 
like the legalistic "don't use your new laptop 
in a hot tub" part of an instruction booklet. 
The alternative is to be flat-out wrong in 
some way. There's no good solution. 

Does Jupiter orbit the Sun? Actually, it 
orbits the barycenter where the jovian and 
solar gravities balance. Have you ever seen a 
meteor? Actually, you've seen only the glow- 
ing air around the seed-sized meteoroid. 

Excessively condensed science is every- 
where. You've always read that humans 
breathe out carbon dioxide. Turns out, we 
exhale roughly 78 percent nitrogen, 17 per- 
cent oxygen, 4 percent carbon dioxide, and 
1 percent argon. We exhale far more oxygen 
than carbon dioxide. Performing mouth- 
to- mouth to fill someone's lungs with our 
air would be pointless if there wasn't a lot of 
oxygen in that offering. 

It's downright misleading to say, "Out- 
breaths are carbon dioxide." Yet no science 
writer has ever to my knowledge taken the 
time to clarify this. 

So next time you spot something suspi- 
cious, be aware that science prose is simpli- 
fied for brevity and filled with trade-offs. 
(And, on this page, designed to sneak in 
some cool little-known facts.) Is everything 
totally true? 

Yes, sure. Also, no. « 

Contact me about my strange universe by 

10 Astronomy- September 2012 

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by Glenn Chaple 

Lunar letters 

A First Quarter Moon offers observers countless targets, including two special letters. 

First Quarter or half Moon — which is 
the correct name of the lunar phase 
that occurs one week after New 
Moon? Astronomers prefer the former 
while poets and dreamers opt for the latter. 
One of my goals as a middle school science 
teacher was to stamp "quarter Moon" into 
the impressionable young minds of my stu- 
dents. I had a tactic. I'd begin by saying, 
"Notice that First Quarter phase occurs 
when the Moon has traveled one quarter of 
the way around Earth since New Moon." 
Then I'd add, "During First Quarter, we 
only see half of the one-half of the Moon 
that faces Earth. Half of one-half equals one 
quarter of the entire Moon." Mission 
accomplished! Or so I thought. 

One day, one of my more astute students 
raised his hand. "If that's the case, why do 
we call the Full Moon 'full' when it's only 
gone halfway around Earth and we can only 
see the half of the Moon that faces us?" You 
could almost hear the "whoosh!" as the 
wind left my sails. When it comes to nam- 
ing lunar phases, I have to admit that the 
poets and dreamers got this one right. 

The First Quarter Moon ("first half," if 
you prefer) is a breathtaking telescopic 
sight. Up and down the length of the termi- 
nator (the boundary between day and night 
on the Moon), our eyes feast on a spectacu- 
lar jumble of craters and mountains whose 
rugged topography is enhanced by the long 
shadows of a lunar morning. On the night- 
time side of the terminator, bright specks 
and shapes punctuate the darkness as the 
rising Sun illuminates mountain peaks and 
lofty regions. One of the more intriguing of 
these shapes is the Lunar X. 

The Lunar X appears when sunlight 
strikes an elevated area at the junction of the 
craters La Caille, Blanchinus, and Purbach. I 
had viewed the First Quarter Moon hun- 
dreds of times in the past without ever notic- 
ing this remarkable feature. I still might be 


Browse the "Observing Basics" archive 

clueless as to its existence had it not been for 
Astronomy Senior Editor Michael E. Bakich 
and Contributing Editor Phil Harrington. 
Bakich described the Lunar X in his October 
2009 Astronomy article "Explore 12 great 
lunar targets" while Harrington mentioned it 
in his book Cosmic Challenge (Cambridge 
University Press, 2010). 

I first saw the Lunar X during a star 
party last spring. Thanks to a timetable in 
Cosmic Challenge, I knew the X would be 
visible that evening. I pointed my telescope 
toward the Moon and peered into the eye- 
piece. There, standing out from the dark- 
ness about a quarter of the way up from the 
Moon's south pole, was a bright X. What an 
amazing sight, and surprisingly easy to see! 

How could such an obvious feature have 
eluded so many observers? Sensory over- 
load is one culprit. The First Quarter Moon 
displays so much detail that we often fail to 
notice subtle, yet striking features. Timing 
is another factor. The window of visibility 
for the Lunar X lasts a mere four hours. 

In September, the Lunar X will be in full 
view on the 22nd during the hours centered 
on 21h46m UT (5:46 p.m. EDT). These cir- 
cumstances favor observers in the eastern 
parts of North and South America (after the 
Sun sets) and Western Europe and Africa. 
Those in eastern Asia and Australia will get 
their turn next month (October 22 around 
1 lh08m UT). Because of the 29y 2 -day cycle 
of lunar phases, conditions favorable for 
seeing the X from a particular location on 
Earth occur roughly every other month. 

Amazingly, during those precious few 
hours of Lunar X visibility, observers can 
spot another letter. If you focus your atten- 
tion on the part of the terminator near the 
lunar equator, you'll see a distinct letter V. 
Like the X, the Lunar V is a transient phe- 
nomenon — in this instance created by 
sunlight striking high elevations near a 
pair of intersecting ridges between Mare 
Vaporum and Sinus Medii. 

Whether you're a novice or a veteran 
skygazer who has a "been there, done that" 

The Lunar X and the Lunar V (circled) are both 
visible for a few hours each month at First 
Quarter Moon, ziad Ei-zaatari 

attitude about the Moon, be sure to pen in 
the Lunar X and V on your "must-see" list. 
The two are accessible to anyone, regard- 
less of experience. They are within the 
grasp of the smallest telescope magnifying 
as low as 20x. Once you've seen them, 
you'll agree that the letters V and X stand 
for Very X-traordinary! 

Another important lunar event happens 
September 22. This is the date of the sec- 
ond International Observe the Moon Night 
(InOMN), a worldwide outreach event 
sponsored by a dedicated team of scien- 
tists, educators, and lunar enthusiasts. 
Through InOMN, they hope to instill in 
the public a sense of wonderment and 
curiosity about the Moon. For information 
on InOMN activities in your area or ways 
you can conduct your own InOMN event, 
go to 

Questions, comments, or suggestions? 
Email me at Next 
month: astroimaging with a cellphone and 
a telescope. Clear skies! <9 

1 2 Astronomy • September 2012 

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Man/olnilC Ml PI NASA received the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) for the upcoming 
iVIal VCIUU j I VI I nl James Webb Space Telescope (Hubble's successor) in a ceremony May 9. 

For the latest news on 

space discoveries, 

spacecraft missions, 

and sky events, visit 


Faint jets suggest past 
Milky Way activity 

Astronomers have long considered our home, the Milky Way 
Galaxy, a relatively quiet place. But newly discovered ethereal 
gamma-ray beams bursting from our galaxy's center, combined 
with a 2010 finding of unexpected gamma-ray bubbles emanat- 
ing from the same location, may indicate that our galaxy was 
much more active a relatively short time ago. Details about the 
beams and their implications will appear in an upcoming issue 
of The Astrophysical Journal. 

"These faint jets are a ghost or after-image of what existed a 
million years ago," says lead author Meng Su of the Harvard- 
Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachu- 
setts. "They strengthen the case for an active galactic nucleus in 
the Milky Way's relatively recent past." 

NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope discovered both 
the beams and the bubbles of two years ago. The former stretch 
about 27,000 light-years above and below the galactic plane, at 
an angle of 15°; these are the only such jets known. The bubbles 
also happen to extend 27,000 light-years from the center of our 
galaxy, but do so perpendicularly to the plane. 

Bubbles 'n' beams. Twin gamma-ray bubbles (purple) and newly 
discovered twin gamma-ray beams (pink) emanate from the Milky Way's 
center, as shown in this illustration. Together, they indicate that our 
galactic center may have been much more active in the recent past. 

The two structures may be related, but they almost certainly 
formed differently. The beams likely resulted from hot matter 
squeezing through the tight magnetic field of the galactic center 
while the bubbles probably formed from the push of material 
spewing from the Milky Way's central black hole. More research 
is necessaiy to understand these structures. — bill Andrews 

1 A Peering past i 

galaxy's dark dust 

1 (j Historic launch to ISS 

1 7 Found: a star that 
vaporizes its world 


David J. McComas 

Mars capable of producing organic carbon 

"| £ The solar system's 
"softer" edge 

Researchers studying martian 
meteorites have found that the 
Red Planet is capable of produc- 
ing organic carbon. Also known 
as reduced carbon, this substance 
is an important ingredient in the 
formation of life, but it remains 
unclear whether Mars has ever 
had any biological activity. The 
findings, which should help scien- 
tists search for signs of such activ- 
ity, appeared in a Science Express 
paper published online May 24. 

"These findings show that the 
storage of reduced carbon mole- 
cules on Mars occurred through- 
out the planet's history and might 

have been similar to processes 
that occurred on the ancient 
Earth," says lead author Andrew 
Steele of the Carnegie Institution 
for Science in Washington, D.C. 
Similar molecules, composed 
of large chains of carbon and 
hydrogen atoms, had been found 
before in martian meteorites, but 
scientists didn't know if the carbon 
originated on Mars. After studying 
1 1 meteorites, which spanned 
about 4.2 billion years of martian 
history, Steele's team found large 
carbon compounds in 10 and 
proved that the carbon resulted 
from natural processes on Mars. 

Don't forego orgo. Scientists have 
learned that Mars can form organic 
carbon, a fact that might help the 
Curiosity rover detect evidence of 
biological activity, as illustrated 

here. NASA/JPL-Caltech 

"Understanding the genesis of 
these non-biological, carbon- 
containing macromolecules on 
Mars is crucial for developing 
future missions to detect evi- 
dence of life," Steele says. — B. A. 

14 Astronomy- September 2012 

Black hole blues. Astronomers learned that as the supermassive black hole in a galaxy's center 
becomes more energetic, as depicted in this artistically modified image of galaxy Arp 220, its rate of 
star formation noticeably decreases. NASA/jPL-caitech 

Hungriest black holes thwart star growth 

Deep within the centers of large galaxies lie mon- 
sters — supermassive black holes. The most 
active can devour gas and dust so messily that 
the infalling material heats up and releases 
energy. New findings in a Nature paper published 
May 10 show that the most powerful active black 
holes hinder star formation in their host galaxies. 

"We want to know how star formation and 
black hole activity are linked," says lead author 
Mathew Page of University College London in 
England. "The two processes increase together 
up to a point, but the most energetic black holes 
appear to turn off star formation." 

Astronomers have long suspected that active 
black holes could have this effect, likely because 

the energy released by the black holes disturbs 
and scatters the pools of cold gas required to cre- 
ate stars. They had only scarce evidence of this, 
however, until Page and his team compared star 
formation rates and central black hole emissions 
in 65 galaxies. 

For the most part, the team observed a direct 
correlation between the two. For galaxies with 
the most active black holes, however, stellar 
growth quickly dropped off. It will take more 
research to determine whether this means that 
the strongest black holes intrinsically hamper 
star formation or that all galaxies will suffer the 
same fate — the most active simply accelerate 
the process. — B. A. 

Discovery provides 
new benchmark for 
brown dwarfs 

Understanding a class of objects known as brown 
dwarfs has challenged astronomers. These sub- 
stellar bodies are more massive than giant plan- 
ets but not massive enough to sustain nuclear 
fusion in their cores, and scientists have had diffi- 
culty constraining their properties. But a new dis- 
covery, published in the May Monthly Notices of 
the Royal Astronomical Society, could provide a 
key benchmark in distinguishing these "failed 
stars" from giant planets. 

While combing through data from NASA's 
Wide-field Infrared Explorer satellite, David Pin- 
field of the University of Hertfordshire in the 
United Kingdom and colleagues discovered 
BD+01 2920B, a brown dwarf some 20 to 50 
times as massive as Jupiter composed of more 
than 99 percent hydrogen and helium and with 
a temperature of only 760° Fahrenheit (400° Cel- 
sius). The brown dwarf orbits a G-type star, the 
same spectral type as the Sun, which is a more 
readily characterized object than the red dwarfs 

Brown dwarf benchmark. The newly discovered 
brown dwarf BD+01 2920B is depicted in the 
foreground of this artist's impression with its 
stellar companion. Because the companion is a 
common G-type star (the same class as the Sun), 
astronomers could more readily constrain the 
brown dwarf's physical characteristics. 

scientists frequently find as companions to these 
"ultra-cool" brown dwarfs. 

Because its companion allowed the team to 
better constrain the physical properties of 
BD+01 2920B, it becomes a benchmark to test 
cool brown dwarf atmospheres and potentially 
study the abundances of these ultra-cool objects 
in the universe. — KARRI FERRON 


Astronomers caught the old star 
WISE J1 80956.27-330500.2 in the 
explosive process of throwing 
off massive amounts of dust, 
according to a May 20 paper in 
The Astrophysical Journal Letters. 


A May 1 paper in The Astro- 
physical Journal announced 
arsenic and selenium in a Milky 
Way star previously thought too 
old for such elements. 


A technique to observe 
Earth's lightning-related sig- 
nature, known as Schumann 
Resonance, also can study the 
signal on other planets, accord- 
ing to a May 1 paper in The 
Astrophysical Journal. 


An online paper in Monthly 
Notices of the Royal Astronomical 
Society: Letters published May 15 
determines that some of the old- 
est galaxies evolved faster than 
expected, allowing for planets 
and even life much earlier in the 
universe's history than thought. 


Scientists at the May 19 Asteroids, 
Comets and Meteors 2012 meet- 
ing in Niigata, Japan, announced 
measurements of asteroid 
1999 RQ 36 so precise that they 
observed the Yarkovsky effect 
(based on the effects of absorb- 
ing and emitting light). 


The James Clerk Maxwell 
Telescope (JCMT) in Hawaii 
reached its 25th anniversary of 
observations April 27. 


The U.K.'s Science and 
Technology Facilities Council 
announced May 31 that it would 
cease support for its Hawaii- 
based telescopes (including the 
JCMT) in the next two years. 


NASA officially lent its Galaxy 
Evolution Explorer (GALEX) 
to the California Institute of 
Technology on May 14, allowing 
its mission to continue without 
government funding. 


A paper in the May 22 
Proceedings of the National 
Academy of Sciences suggests 
that planetary systems with 
"hot Jupiter" type planets likely 
preclude Earth-like worlds from 
forming. — B. A. 



Peering past a 
galaxy's dark dust 

Sensitive vision. Centaurus A (NGC 5128), 
the most prominent radio galaxy in the sky, 
is well-known for a dark dust band that 
obscures its center. To peer through the dust 
requires using longer wavelengths of light, 
something the new Atacama Large 
Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) 
specializes in. By combining ALMA's 
1 -millimeter observations with near-infrared 
ones made with the European Southern 
Observatory's (ESO) New Technology 
Telescope, scientists were able to reveal the 
position and motion of gas clouds in 
Centaurus A's center. Greener features 
indicate carbon monoxide gas coming 
toward ALMA while more orange areas show 
gas moving away. Such a distribution 
indicates that the gas is orbiting NGC 51 28. 
ESO released this new image May 31. — K. F. 

Historic launch to ISS 

At 3:44 a.m. EDT May 22, a rocket launched 
from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Flor- 
ida. But it wasn't just any launch. Atop Space 
Exploration Technologies' (SpaceX) Falcon 9 
was the unmanned Dragon spacecraft, set to 
make history. Three days later, on May 25, 
Dragon became the first craft from a commer- 
cial company to attach to the International 
Space Station (ISS).The reusable craft 
remained at the ISS for five days and on May 
31 splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean. 

After the Falcon 9 launched Dragon into 
orbit, the craft's sensors and flight systems 
underwent a series of tests to ensure it could 
maneuver properly before nearing the ISS. 
First, its solar arrays deployed, and then the 
door that covered the craft's sensors opened. 
This allowed Dragon to test how it measured 
its movement and later proximity to the ISS. 

NASA had to give the OK for Dragon to 
attempt to berth with the ISS; this would 
wait until the craft underwent additional 
maneuver tests hundreds of meters from the 
station. On May 25, Dragon was allowed to 
approach the ISS. 

At 9:56 a.m. EDT, as Dragon came within 
feet of the station, a robotic arm controlled 
by ISS astronauts reached out, captured the 
craft, pulled it toward the space station, and 
attached it to the complex. 

The next morning, ISS crewmembers 
opened Dragon's hatch — a process that took 



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International Space Station's (ISS) robotic arm 
to grapple the Dragon spacecraft and attach 
it to the station on May 25. On this day, 
Dragon became the first craft designed by a 
commercial company to berth with the ISS. 

some two hours. Over the next five days, 
astronauts unloaded 1,146 pounds (520 
kilograms) of food, student experiments, 
and other cargo from Dragon and filled it 
with 1,455 pounds (660kg) of hardware and 
additional items to return to Earth. 

On May 30, the robotic arm pulled 
Dragon away from the ISS and released it 
for its journey home. Shortly after entering 
Earth's atmosphere, the spacecraft deployed 
two sets of parachutes to slow its descent. 
Dragon splashed down May 31 at 8:42 A.M. 
PDT (1 1 :42 a.m. EDT) in the Pacific Ocean 
about 450 miles (720 kilometers) off the 
coast of Southern California. 

This demonstration flight was SpaceX's 
second under NASA's Commercial Orbital 
Transportation Services agreement to coor- 
dinate crew and cargo transfer to the ISS 
with commercial companies. Dragon's his- 
toric approach and berth show that the pri- 
vate sector can, and will, contribute heavily 
to future space exploration. — LIZ KRUESI 


ie distance, in light-years, 
to the most distant 

>rotocluster of galaxies 

ver found, according to 
a May 10 paper in 

'he Astrophysical Journal. 

16 Astronomy- September 2012 


Disappearing world. The Kepler telescope 
caught the signature of a possible disintegrating 
planet passing in front of its star, shown in this 
artist's conception. NASA/jPL-caitech 

Found: a star that 
vaporizes its world 

The Kepler space telescope continuously stares 
at some 170,000 stars, looking for dips in light. 
A regular drop in a star's luminosity could sug- 
gest that this sun hosts a planet that crosses 
its face from Kepler's viewpoint. The telescope 
has found thousands of candidate planets with 
this method. Researchers then take follow-up 
observations and studies to determine if the 
candidate planets are exoworlds or something 
else. Occasionally, the Kepler data holds sur- 
prising planetary systems. 

One team analyzing observations and per- 
forming computer simulations describes an 
odd light pattern they think comes from a dis- 
integrating planet in the June 10 issue of The 
AstrophysicalJournal. They found that the light 
from the orange star KIC 1 2557548 dropped 
by various amounts every 1 5.685 hours. This 
observation suggests that something blocks 
the star regularly, but by different amounts. 
Saul Rappaport of the Massachusetts Institute 
of Technology in Cambridge and colleagues 
determined that a binary planet system passing 
in front of the star could not produce the obser- 
vations. Instead, they calculated that the star 
likely hosts a small planet that is disintegrating 
from close proximity to its sun. A tail of dust fol- 
lows the world, and this material blocks light 
from the star, causing the odd pattern. 

The scientists estimate that this possible 
planet is at most twice Mercury's mass and 
orbits so close to its star that its surface tem- 
perature is a searing 3300° Fahrenheit (1820° 
Celsius). KIC 1 2557548 vaporizes the world's 
dust and gas, and according to calculations, 
the planet will fully disintegrate in 1 00 to 200 
million years. — L. K. 

25 years ago in 

Se Ptember l987 

In the September 1987 
issue, Donald Frederick 
Robertson outlined an 
ambitious plan for 
studying Saturn and its 
biggest moon in "Cassini," named for the 
planned orbiter. The mission faced uncer- 
tainty, but space research won out. 

On July 1 , 2004, Cassini flew through 
Saturn's rings and entered orbit, and in Jan- 
uary 2005, the Huygens probe descended 
through the mists of Titan's atmosphere. 

September 2002 

The September 2002 issue 
featured a look back at 
seminal science program- 
ming in "Beyond Cosmos" 
Some two decades after the 
premiere of Carl Sagan's PBS show, then 
Managing Editor David J. Eicher fondly 
recalled Sagan's influence in science educa- 
tion. "He arrived like an alien visitor from the 
world of academia," Eicher wrote. "Carl Sagan, 
astronomy professor from Cornell, had 
begun to change science forever." — B. A. 



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The European Space Agency announced April 26 that Mars Express data analyzing 


Astroconfidential *,*■,*«» 

study our solar system's boundary? 

disk of the galaxy like a horse on a merry-go- 
round. As it does, it passes through areas of 
the interstellar medium with different speeds 
and densities, causing the heliosphere to 
change in shape and size. 

Understanding how the interstellar 
medium affects the heliosphere is important 
to learning how it protects us. For one, it is a 
crucial layer of defense against dangerous 
cosmic rays. As these charged particles try to 
enter our solar system, the heliosphere 
deflects most of them. Earth's magnetic field is 
then usually able to shield us from the remain- 
ing cosmic rays. However, astronauts on deep- 
space missions cannot take Earth's protection 
with them, so we must learn how and to what 
extent the heliosphere can shield them. 

Fundamentally, however, the IBEX team 
and I are excited to study these boundaries 
because they have been so surprising. Obser- 
vations show just how little we understand 
the outer reaches of the heliosphere. From the 
unanticipated IBEX Ribbon to the "breeze" of 
newly detected incoming interstellar neutral 
particles and the lack of a bow shock in front 
of the heliosphere (see page 19), there have 
been discoveries everywhere we turn, and we 
are looking forward to learning more! 

The Interstellar Boundary Explorer 
(IBEX) mission gives us the chance to 
investigate one of the last unexplored 
frontiers of our solar system — the 
boundaries where our Sun's neighborhood 
ends and the rest of the galaxy begins. The 
focus of the mission is to understand what 
causes these boundaries, how they change 
over time, and what they mean for the future 
exploration of the solar system and beyond. 

In our solar system, the Sun emits a "wind" 
of material. As the solar wind streams away 
from the Sun, it races out toward the space 
between the stars called the "interstellar 
medium."The solar wind blows against the 
ionized gas and clears out a cavity-like region 
— the heliosphere. 

Our heliosphere is like a protective 
cocoon being inflated in the interstellar 
medium by the solar wind. As our Sun orbits 
the center of the galaxy every couple hun- 
dred million years, it bobs in and out of the 


September 22-23 

Pasadena Convention Center 



* Two days of Astro Presentations 

* Vendors and Astro Organizations 

* Imaging Workshop 

Woodland Hill* 


Q meade _opt^ Astronomy celcstron 

1 8 Astronomy • September 2012 

! Asteroid family tree 

Scientists with NASA's Dawn mission 
!±! that is exploring Vesta have aged the 
03 asteroid's huge crater: Rheasilvia was 
created in a collision that occurred about 
1 billion years ago. This is much more 
recent than expected. The team also 
reports in the May 1 1 issue of Science 
that the amount of material excavated 
by the impact suggests that most of the 
observed asteroids and meteorites with 
Vesta's composition were formed in this 
specific collision. — L. K. 

Scope's dual location 

The Square Kilometre Array project 
took a big step forward May 25 when 
scientists announced that they had 
selected a dual location for what will be 
the world's largest and most sensitive 
radio telescope. Mid-frequency aperture 
arrays will be built in Southern Africa 
while low-frequency aperture arrays 
will be placed in Australia. Construction 
should begin in 2016. — L K. 


Less pressure. New data from NASA's Interstellar 
Boundary Explorer combined with discoveries 
from the Voyager probes suggest that the Sun 
doesn't move fast enough through the galaxy, 
and thus isn't creating enough pressure, to form 

a bOW ShOCk. Southwest Research Institute 

The solar system's 
softer" edge 

For decades, scientists thought the Sun's wind 
of charged particles in addition to the solar 
magnetic field create three distinct boundary 
layers between the Sun and the rest of the gal- 
axy; these collectively are called the helio- 
sphere. By combining recent data from the 
twin Voyager probes and NASA's Interstellar 
Boundary Explorer (IBEX), though, astrono- 
mers have determined that the Sun doesn't 
plow through the galaxy fast enough to create 
the expected outermost boundary. The results 
appeared online May 10 in Science Express. 

Voyager 1 and 2 have confirmed that the 
first boundary layer (the termination shock) 
exists, as they both passed through it years ago; 
this is where the solar wind slows to speeds 
below supersonic. Both craft have also seen evi- 
dence of the second layer — the heliopause — 
as they near it; at this layer, the inward pressure 
from the galaxy's material balances the solar 
wind's pressure. 

Scientists predicted a third layer — the bow 
shock — that arises from the Sun's protective 
magnetic bubble ramming into galactic mate- 
rial and thus slowing it. (A familiar example of a 
bow shock is when a supersonic jet compresses 
and pushes air aside.) IBEX measurements ear- 
lier this year showed that the Sun is moving 
about 7,000 mph (1 1,300 km/hour) slower than 
the expected 59,000 mph (95,000 km/h)."That 
might not seem like a huge difference, but it 
translates to a quarter less pressure exerted on 
the boundaries of the heliosphere,"says IBEX 
principal investigator David McComas of the 
Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, 
Texas (see more from McComas on page 1 8). 
"There's a very different interaction, a much 
weaker interaction, than previously thought." 

Scientists say that instead of a bow shock, 
the third layer is more like a "bow wave," and 
thus the Sun's wind and magnetic field create 
a gentler compression as our star moves 
through the galaxy. — L. K. 

The century's 
last Venus 

• • 

Rare spectacle. Observers and telescopes across Earth, and satellites orbiting it, witnessed 
Venus cross the Sun's disk June 5/6. This rare transit last occurred June 2004 and won't happen 
again until December 21 1 7. On June 6, researchers with NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory 
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Cosmic history ' 





m • 



Quest for the most 

The search for the first structures in the universe has baffled astronomers 

If the universe were ageless — if it had 
always looked exactly as it appears 
today — then gazing deeper into space 
would offer no new insights. We would 
see galaxies forever and ever. But the 
discovery that the universe began as a Big 
Bang altered our understanding of the link 
between time and distance. Astronomers 
know that the universe in the past appeared 
quite different from the universe today. The 
cosmos, scientists learned, has evolved. 

Scientists have known for more than 300 
years that light travels at a finite (although 
tremendous) speed, since Danish astrono- 
mer Ole Romer's studies of Jupiter in 1676. 

Adam Frank is a member of Astronomy's 
Editorial Advisory Board and a professor of 
physics and astronomy at the University of 
Rochester in New York. 

20 Astronomy- September 2012 

This recognition of inseparable links 
between space, time, and light is thus 
encoded in one of astronomy's basic mea- 
sures: the "light-year," or the 5.88- trillion- 
mile (9.46 trillion kilometers) distance that 
a beam of light travels in one year. This 
means that galaxies that lie 1 million light- 
years distant appear to earthbound observ- 
ers as they existed 1 million years in the 
past. To look out into space is to see back 
into different epochs of cosmic history. 
Look back far enough, and you could 
glimpse the beginning. 

That was how the race to see the 
moment when the universe started forming 
structures — the quest to see the most dis- 
tant objects — began. 

Astronomers aim to observe the moment 
when primordial gas transformed into 
large-scale objects like stars and galaxies. 

And although astronomers have been 
searching for the most distant (and thus, 
most ancient) objects for more than four 
decades, a new generation of telescopes 
promises glimpses of the era when starlight 
first filled the night. 

Back to the beginning 

As is often the case in astronomy, the quest 
began without scientists realizing just what 
they had stumbled upon. "The story starts 
around the late 1950s with quasars, or 
'quasi-stellar objects,'" says Avi Loeb, a pro- 
fessor of astrophysics at Harvard University 
in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and an expert 
on the early epochs of cosmic evolution. 

Each chemical element emits radiation at 
specific wavelengths. Astronomers use these 
elemental fingerprints to bin stars into dif- 
ferent categories. Some stars, for example, 

distant objects 

^F by Adam Frank 

for decades. But telescopes now on the horizon promise to shed new light. 

may show strong fingerprints of hydrogen 
while others show the signature of helium 
or calcium. Quasars appeared as point 
sources — like stars — but astronomers 
couldn't trace the patterns in their spectra to 
any known element. Because these objects 
looked like stars, scientists called them 
quasi-stellar objects. The fingerprints were 
"unlike anything seen before," says Loeb. 
Were quasars telling astronomers that ele- 
ments existed in space that did not exist on 
Earth? Their real identities didn't come to 
light until the early 1960s. 

Then, Maarten Schmidt of the Califor- 
nia Institute of Technology in Pasadena 
solved the puzzle of what was happening 
with the spectrum from one of the first of 
these discovered objects, 3C 273. Schmidt 
saw that the strange patterns in light were 
really nothing more than the spectra of 

A Whereas most modern-day galaxies contain billions of stars and display elegant structure, the 
earliest galaxies were smaller clumps of primordial material. For decades, astronomers have been 
searching for the most distant objects, and the current record-holder is a galaxy whose light has 
been traveling toward us for 13.2 billion years. 

common hydrogen shunted drastically to 
longer wavelengths. Quasars, Schmidt real- 
ized, were highly "redshifted." 

If an object is moving toward an 
observer, its light shifts to shorter (more 
blue) wavelengths; if the object instead is 
moving away from the observer, its light 
shifts toward longer (redder) wavelengths. 
Like the change in tone (and wavelength) of 
a passing ambulance's siren, 3C 273's spec- 
trum meant it was moving away from Earth. 
More importantly, its recession speed was 
higher than anything detected before. 

Cosmologists measure distance in 
terms of redshift (called z), which increases 

the further back in time and space they 
explore. But redshift doesn't march in lin- 
ear fashion with time. Instead, it starts 
small and heads toward infinity as one 
gets closer to the universe's moment of 
creation — the Big Bang. A redshift of 1 
corresponds to a distance of about 7.5 bil- 
lion light-years when the object emitted 
that light. (The universe's expansion has 
since moved the object farther away and 
stretched the wavelength even more.) A 
redshift of 10 marks a distance of roughly 
13 billion light-years. 

When Schmidt calculated 3C 273's veloc- 
ity from its redshift, he found that the quasar 21 

Laboratory value vs. redshift 

H5 H0 

4,102 Hy 4,861 



1 = 0.1 

L»Av** w *'' Av ^~^ iW ' 





W 20 







6,000 7,000 

Wavelength (angstroms) 



The characteristic light signature — called a spectrum — of a quasar tells astronomers its redshift, 
how far away it is, and how fast it is moving. Objects farther from Earth are receding faster. Researchers 
compare a quasar's spectrum to laboratory light signatures (for example, hydrogen in this diagram) to 

determ ine thiS J nformatJOn. Astronomy: Roen Kelly, after Mark Subbarao (University of Chicago)/Astrophysical Research Consortium/SDSS 

was receding at 29,000 miles per second 
(47,000 km/s) — 15.8 percent of the speed of 
light. That movement is due to the fact that 
everything on cosmic scales is expanding 
away from everything else; astronomer 
Edwin Hubble discovered this in 1929. 
Using what's called the Hubble law, 
Schmidt's quasar could be placed at roughly 
2 billion light-years away from Earth. His 
colleagues at the same time discovered that 
the quasar 3C 48 has a redshift of 0.3675, 
placing the object at some 4 billion light- 
years from Earth when it emitted its light. 
This colossal distance made it the farthest 
object ever observed. The discovery started 

astronomers racing into the depths of time 
and space as they were driven to ask if there 
are even farther objects. 

With such enormous distances, quasars 
became more than just an astronomical 
curiosity; they became beacons for the sci- 
ence of cosmology. 

Heading into the dark 

In the mid-1960s, scientists stumbled across 
an odd all-sky signal. No matter what direc- 
tion they pointed their radio antenna, they 
saw microwave radiation. Astronomers soon 
recognized that this microwave background 
was light emitted a mere 380,000 years after 

the moment that the universe came into 
existence, at redshift 1,100. Before this time, 
in the earliest epochs of cosmic history, the 
universe was a roiling, superhot, superdense 
"plasma" of particles and light photons. 

As the universe expanded and cooled, 
particles collided and sometimes formed 
new, stable combinations. When tempera- 
tures dropped enough, electrons and pro- 
tons could join to form the first hydrogen 
atoms. Before this combination into atomic 
hydrogen, photons had been closely tied to 
electrons and protons, and continually col- 
lided and scattered off the particles. Once 
the temperature cooled enough, the photons 
could stream away with far fewer collisions. 

Scientists say that this was the moment 
when the universe became "transparent" to 
the photons. Since then, cosmic expansion 
has redshifted the released photons, which 
had infrared wavelengths at the time, into 
the microwave regime — it's called the cos- 
mic microwave background (CMB) radia- 
tion. The photons travel from one end of 
the cosmos to the other without interacting 
as often with matter. That is why astrono- 
mers still can see them flowing toward 
Earth from every direction. 

While the universe may have become 
transparent to the CMB photons, other 
wavelengths of radiation suddenly found 
their way barred. Atomic hydrogen is good 
at absorbing visual-wavelength photons. In 
a universe full of atomic hydrogen, any light 
emitted in these bands is quickly absorbed. 
Thus, when protons and electrons com- 
bined into hydrogen atoms 380,000 years 
after the Big Bang, it was also the beginning 
of what astronomers call the cosmic Dark 
Ages. In the search to learn the universe's 
history, the CMB and these Dark Ages 
would remain closely paired. 

Quasars' true nature 

"The CMB told us the universe began as an 
ultradense, ultrahot soup of particles," says 
Loeb. "That was 13.7 billion years ago. But 
today we see galaxies and stars and lots of 
empty space between them. How did we get 
from there to here?" Quasars are a stepping- 
stone to understand that question. 

The first discovered quasars were some 2 
and 4 billion light-years away, with redshifts 
of 0.158 and 0.3675, respectively. "While 
that was a big deal when they were discov- 
ered," says Loeb, "we've now pushed much 
farther back toward the beginning of struc- 
ture formation and learned so much more 

22 Astronomy- September 2012 

In the mid-1960s, scientists stumbled 
across an odd all-sky signal. No matter 
what direction they pointed their 
radio antenna, they saw 
microwave radiation. 

in the process." Ironically, one of those les- 
sons is that quasars are not the best way to 
explore the early epoch of structure forma- 
tion in the universe. "They were not the first 
thing created in cosmic history," says Loeb. 

By the 1980s, astronomers understood 
that a quasar was nothing more than the 
central region of a galaxy containing a 
massive, hungry black hole. Quasars act as 
cosmic beacons because those billion- 
solar-mass black holes pull in vast quanti- 
ties of gas, which heats up and glows 
intensely on its way down into the object 
(only once it crosses the black hole's "event 
horizon" boundary does the light become 
trapped). That tremendous light output is 
why quasars can serve as bright beacons 
visible across vast stretches of space. 

But these massive black holes require 
time to be assembled. The earliest quasar 
astronomers have discovered is at z=7.085, 
or 770 million years into the universes his- 
tory. "That means there are not many qua- 
sars early in cosmic history," says Loeb. 

The earliest structures 

This paucity of super-high-redshift quasars 
comes as no surprise to Loeb and other 

The cosmic microwave background displays the beginning of structure in the universe. The color 
differences indicate density fluctuations of just a few parts in 100,000 — these evolved into galaxy 
clusters and voids through cosmic history, nasa/wmap science Team 

The first redshift that scientists identified 
belongs to 3C 273 (which emits a high-speed jet 
seen in this X-ray image). This quasar is the 
closest to Earth, about 2 billion light-years away, 
but it was the second most distant object known 
when astronomers learned its identity in 1963. 

theorists. In their models of cosmic history, 
structure starts small and builds its way up. 
That is why the Holy Grail of high-redshift 
objects is no longer the first quasars — it's 
the first galaxies and stars. 

"We have a standard cosmological 
model," says Loeb, referring to the preci- 
sion with which astronomers now know 
the fundamental parameters governing 
cosmic evolution. "That wasn't the case a 
couple of decades ago." 

Cosmologists know that the universe 
isn't just the material they can directly 
observe. It also contains mysterious dark 
matter, which doesn't interact via radiation, 
so scientists can't see it. The precision cos- 
mology of today lets astronomers know the 
exact mix of dark and normal matter that 
the universe began with. And "just as 
important," says Loeb, "from the CMB, we 
have a really good understanding of the 
density perturbations that existed early on 
in the cosmic gas." 

The perturbations Loeb refers to are tiny 
lumps, or overdense regions, in the soup of 
particles that emerged after the Big Bang. 
After the release of the CMB photons, the 
universe was able to cool to the point where 
the gravitational force of these lumps could 
begin working its magic. "The CMB tells us 
exactly what the initial perturbations in the 
universe looked like," says Loeb. "From 
there, we can calculate what happened next 
as gravity began pulling more and more 
material into the overdense regions." 

How to grow a universe 

At around 100 million years after the Big 
Bang (a redshift of about 30), lumps that 

were just one part in 100,000 times more 
dense then their surroundings during the 
CMB's formation grew into light-year- 
wide clouds of hydrogen gas. From their 
calculations, astronomers believe these 
early clouds contained hundreds of thou- 
sands of solar masses — equivalent to the 
size of globular clusters today. But unlike 
the gas floating through space in our mod- 
ern cosmic epoch, these clouds contained 
no elements more complex than helium 
and a bit of lithium. 

"The elements that make up our bodies 
are created inside stars through nuclear 
fusion," says Loeb. "The first generation of 
stars wouldn't have any of those elements." 
In modern star-forming regions, light emit- 
ted by elements like carbon and oxygen acts 
as a refrigerant. As light leaves the gas, the 
clouds can cool down and collapse under 
their own gravity. In the absence of these 
elements, the early clouds remained rela- 
tively warm. "With no heavy elements, the 
clouds tended to fragment into pretty mas- 
sive clumps," says Loeb, "so the first popula- 
tion of stars were themselves pretty massive." 

While most of the largest stars in the 
universe today hover around 100 times the 
mass of the Sun, the first stars to form likely 
were monsters weighing in at 300 or 400 
solar masses. This era of giants didn't last 
long, however. "As soon as the first super- 
nova exploded, heavy elements made in the 
heart of these massive stars got disbursed 
into the surrounding medium," says Loeb. 

After that, cooling became more effec- 
tive. The next generation of star-forming 
clouds could both lower their tempera- 
tures and fragment more easily to begin 23 

The quest to reach the beginning 

Cosmic microwave 
at 380,000 years 

Logarithmic seal 



The universe began as a dense, hot point and has evolved into giant structures over 13.7 billion years. Scientists are searching for the time when the 
first protogalaxies and stars formed — a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. So far, they've discovered a galaxy that existed 480 million years 
after the universe began, but they expect even earlier objects. (The timescale of this illustration changes after the cosmic microwave background.) 

The search ramps up 


Year published 


Years after Big Bang 

• 3C 295 



8.9 billion 

• 3C9 



3.3 billion 

• QSOB1 442+1 01 



1.8 billion 

• QSOJ0048-2903 



1.6 billion 

• CL 1358+62 G1 and CL 1358+62 G2 



1.2 billion 




6.7 billion 

• SDSS 1030+0524 



900 million 

SN 19941 (typelln) 



2.8 billion 

• UDFy-38135539 



600 million 

• ULASJ1 120+0641 



770 million 

• CLJ1449+0856 



3.2 billion 

• GRB 090429B 



520 million 

• UDFj-39546284 



480 million 

SN Primo (type la) 
KEY: • galaxy;* galaxy cluster;* gamma- 

2012 1.55 
ray burst;* quasar; supernova 

4.2 billion 

forming smaller stars — the kind we are 
familiar with today. "This happens around 
a redshift of 20 to redshift 10," says Loeb. 
"Its also during this epoch that the first 
true galaxies are forming." 

The dispersal of heavy elements allowed 
larger conglomerations of gas to collect, 
including early protogalaxies. Simulations of 
cosmic evolution show vast clouds forming 
with masses of a billion or 100 million Suns 
during this epoch — about the size of the 
Milky Way's dwarf satellite galaxies. "The 
gas cools down to about 10,000 degrees, and 
that is when you get to see lots of star for- 
mation beginning to occur," says Loeb. It is 
somewhere around this time that the Dark 
Ages began to lift. 

Moving into the light 

The initiation of large-scale star formation 
is a key moment in the history of the uni- 
verse. Stars produce a lot of ultraviolet 
(UV) radiation, which can rip electrons off 
hydrogen atoms to create hydrogen ions. 
With enough UV light, such as that from 
the first generation of stars, the universe 
turns back into free protons and electrons. 
"Once the galaxies start forming lots of 
stars, they become ionization factories," 
says Loeb. Hydrogen ions don't absorb vis- 
ible light, so astronomers can collect it 
across great distances. 

The epoch of reionization ends at around 
redshift 7, or about 780 million years after 
the Big Bang. Seeing into this reionization 

era — the end of the Dark Ages — marks 
the frontier of todays high-redshift race. 
"These are the really important missing 
pages in the photo album of cosmic history," 
says Loeb. "We can see galaxies like the 
Milky Way forming all the way from 1 bil- 
lion years after the Big Bang until the pres- 
ent time. But we don't see the beginning of 
the story'' Using a new generation of tools 
that should come online in the next decade, 
astronomers like Loeb hope to shed some 
light on the universe's Dark Ages. 

Seeing into the unknown 

Astronomers plan to attack the problem of 
moving to (and beyond) the first billion 
years in a number of ways. For one, "you 
can try and actually observe the neutral 
hydrogen gas that makes the universe dark," 
says Loeb. That strategy requires moving to 
lower frequencies of light, which translates 
into longer wavelengths. Neutral hydrogen 
naturally emits photons with a wavelength 
of 21 centimeters, and those that start at the 
distance of the cosmic Dark Ages stretch to 
even longer wavelengths constituting low- 
frequency radio waves. "There are projects 
like the Low Frequency Array in Europe try- 
ing to make these observations," says Loeb. 
"The whole field is just getting started, but 
it's going to be very exciting." 

The infrared-observing James Webb 
Space Telescope (JWST), slated for launch 
in 2018, was specifically designed to see the 
early phases of galaxy formation. Optical 

24 Astronomy- September 2012 



GRB 090429B 
at 520 million years 

1 » I . CLJ1449+0856 , 

■ ';t.\ at 3.2 billion years -\ 


light emitted by these distant young galax- 
ies will have been highly redshifted into the 
infrared. "J WST should, in principle, be 
able to detect galaxies out to redshifts of 10 
or 12," says Loeb. This equates to 480 to 350 
million years after the Big Bang. 

To get even further, a new generation of 
monstrously large telescopes is in the plan- 
ning stages. The first objects to form are so 
far away that they'll appear exceedingly dim 
and hard to observe. Only extremely large 
telescopes have any hope of seeing them. 

Groups in the United States are plan- 
ning two of these huge instruments: The 
24.5-meter Giant Magellan Telescope will 
observe the southern skies from Chile 
while the Thirty Meter Telescope will scan 
the Northern Hemisphere atop Mauna Kea 
in Hawaii. The Europeans are also planning 
the 39.3-meter-wide European Extremely 
Large Telescope for Chile. Together, all 
three instruments will have much greater 
sensitivity to extremely distant and dim 
objects than anything available today. In 
large part, the high-redshift race is what's 
pushing these projects forward. 

Hoping for the unexpected 

For all his theorizing about the formation 
of structure in the universe, Loeb is hopeful 
that these upcoming huge telescopes will 
discover something no one expected. 
"While I would love to see our theories 
confirmed, I would be even happier if 
observers find results that are not in line 

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field has allowed astronomers to discover galaxies at redshift 8 and even 
10, marking the most distant galaxy found yet. To create the composite image, scientists used the 
Hubble Space Telescope to stare at a seemingly "empty" area of space for 48 hours in three near- 
infrared Wavelength bandS. NASA/ESA/C Illingworth and R. Bouwens (University of California, Santa Cruz)Ahe HUDF09Team 

with our theoretical expectations," says 
Loeb. "If they find exactly what we 
expected, it would be kind of boring. I 
mean, it will be good to claim we predicted 
it all, but it would really be nice to see some 
new physics we did not anticipate." 

That, of course, is the beauty of science. 
Somehow, 13 billion years or so ago, the 
universe began creating structures. Today, 
you and I are direct consequences of that 
dark epoch when the first stars and galaxies 

formed. Now astronomers who have strug- 
gled for decades to see into that darkness 
are poised to get the first good glimpse of 
this hidden age of the cosmic story. If scien- 
tific history is a good gauge, then Loeb will 
not be disappointed, and the race will end 
with more surprises and more questions. * 


Visit to learn 
more about the search for the first 
structures using radio telescopes. 25 

Brian May plays "God Save the Queen 

from the roof of Buckingham Palace to 
commemorate Queen Elizabeth II 's 
Golden Jubilee on June 3, 2002. 

e 2002 Arthur Edwards 

26 Astronomy- September 2012 V 


You know him best 

as guitarist, singer, and 

songwriter from the rock 

group Queen, but Brian May 

is also a Ph.D. astronomer, 

popularizer of the cosmos, 


enthusiast, and advocate 

for animal rights. 

by David J. Eicher 

MS a LGGrldyGr^ Brian Harold May was shy, uncer- 
tain, insecure. "I used to think, 'My God, I don't know what to do, I 
don't know what to wear, I don't know who I am,'" he says. For a 
kid who didn't know who he was or what he wanted, he had quite a 
future in store. Deep, abiding interests and worldwide success 
would come on several levels, from both science and music. Like 
all teenagers beset by angst, it was just a matter of sorting it all out. 

Skiffle, stars, and 3-D 

A postwar baby, Brian May was born July 19, 1947. In his boyhood 
home on Walsham Road in Feltham on the western side of Lon- 
don, England, he was an only child, the offspring of Harold, an 
electronics engineer and senior draftsman at the Ministry of Avia- 
tion, and Ruth. (Harold had served as a radio operator during 
World War II.) The seeds for all of May's enduring interests came 
early: At age 6, Brian learned a few chords on the ukulele from his 
father, who was a music enthusiast. A year later, he awoke one 
morning to find a "Spanish guitar hanging off the end of my bed." 
At age 7, he commenced piano lessons and began playing guitar 
with enthusiasm, and his father's engineering genius came in handy 
to fix up and repair equipment, as the family had what some called 
a modest income. "We were very, very poor," says May. 

As he explored music, Brian also discovered scientific pursuits 
it school. "In the school library, there was this little book called 
The Earth" he says. "It was written by the man who is now Sir Pat- 
rick Moore, who has become a good friend in recent times. It had a 
)icture of Earth on the cover and gave a history of Earth from its 
formation all the way through the beginnings of life, and I was just 
enthralled. I read it from cover to cover again and again." 

The discovery of Moore, England's famous astronomy televi- 
sion presenter, led to Brian staying up late to watch Moore's show, 
The Sky at Night, on the BBC. "I begged my parents to stay up far 
enough into the night," he says, "and I just became captivated by 
the whole story of the universe. It's been a lifelong passion, some- 
thing that's never left me. There's always a part of me who just 
likes to go out and gaze up at the heavens if I'm fortunate enough 
to have a clear sky." 

David J. Eicher is editor of Astronomy. He has been a Queen fan since his 
early teenage years, and enjoys being in the same group of fans of both 
music and astronomy as Brian May. 27 

Exclusive interview 

One night in 1955, Harold May brought 
home a Lonnie Donegan record and 
shared it with his son. This was in the 
midst of the skiffle craze of the mid-1950s, 
when homemade instruments and Ameri- 
can blues, folk, and pop coalesced with a 
new generation of British kids turning on 
to the new music. "I used to lie under the 
bed covers with my little crystal set listen- 
ing to Radio Luxembourg and all this stuff 
that seemed very exciting and dangerous 
and forbidden," he says. 

May excelled in school, and he readily 
says, "I had a lot of application, and I liked 
achieving." His was an intellect that was 
mathematical, ordered, and also quite cre- 
ative. Astronomy and music each found a 
comfortable home here. He entertained his 
parents by writing a monologue about the 
stars and speaking it over a playing of 

A Brian May, age 15, plays 
the newly constructed 
guitar — built by him and 
his father — dubbed, the 
"Red Special," London, 
1963. (His companion is 
the family cat, Squeaky.) 

Harold May/Brian May Archive 

< Brian May's 1967 band, 
1984, included (left to right) 
schoolmate Tim Staffed, Dave 
Dilloway, Richard Thompson, 
John Garnham, and May. 

Brian May Archive 

"Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age" from Gus- 
tav Hoist's The Planets. A collector, he 
acquired toys, comics, matchboxes, and 
before long a camera and telescope, the 
latter homebuilt. The scope, which he still 
has, is a 4-inch reflector. 

"It was just a kit we bought at Tottenham 
Court Road," he says, "which was famous 
for bits of recycled stuff, ex-government 
lenses, and electrical bits and pieces. Me 
and my dad used to go down there and find 
things, and we located a kit for making a 
telescope that must have cost 10 pounds, I 
don't know, and we made it together. It's a 
small scope, but it still gives me pleasure 
because even though I have a bigger tele- 
scope now, the 4-incher can be wheeled out 
in 10 seconds flat if there's something inter- 
esting in the sky." 

Another interest emerged to coexist 
with astronomy and music. All May had to 
do to acquire this fixation was to sit down 
as a kid to breakfast. Weetabix, compressed 
wheat in the form of a biscuit, is served 
with milk at many an English table. "It was 
a big thing when I was a kid," says May, 
"and when you got your packet of Weetabix 
in those days, you would get a free card 
inside. An incentive for kids to badger their 
mums to buy it!" 

The card inside was a photographic ste- 
reo card. Stereoscopy (stereoscopic, or 3-D, 
imaging) was invented by Sir Charles 
Wheatstone in England in 1838. The tech- 
nique employs two nearly identical images 
made from a slightly different angle that, 
when combined by viewing through a spe- 
cial device, appear to merge together to 
produce a three-dimensional scene. The 
process was huge in the United States dur- 
ing and after the Civil War era, and was still 
a novelty of sorts in the Great Depression 
era when kids could drop a penny in the 
grocery store stereoscope to see the won- 
ders of the world in 3-D. 

The 3-D imagery produced by stereos- 
copy was a delight to the young May. "Sud- 
denly, these two little flat pictures became 
one in-depth view of whatever it was," he 
says, "an animal or a city or a car, and to me 
this was just magic. I thought, 'If people can 
do this with photography, why don't they 
do it all the time?'" And May had always 
been fond of animals — yet another passion 
that would rise up throughout his later life. 

Enter the Red Special 

As May began his teenage years, he con- 
tinued to play guitar, borrowing one here 
and there, a friend's Fender Telecaster or 
Gibson SG. His talent was expanding by 
leaps and bounds, and he had no instru- 
ment of his own, unable to afford one. By 
the spring of 1963, when May was 15, he 
and his father decided to build their own 
guitar. Designing and building an electric 
guitar from scratch was no easy undertak- 
ing, although Harold's engineering back- 
ground and Brian's methodical, 
mathematical mind helped the process 
along. The project comprised 18 months, 
producing one of the most famous guitars 
in the history of rock 'n' roll. 

Nothing like this instrument existed, 
and it conspired to give May a unique tone 
in playing pop music. The guitar's body 
is made from oak, the neck from an 

28 Astronomy- September 2012 

▲ The zodiacal light photographed by Brian May in 1971 from the newly 
created Observatorio del Teide, Tenerife, Canary Islands. Brian May Archive 

18th-century mahogany fire- 
place mantle, the fret markers from 
mother-of-pearl buttons taken from Ruth 
May's sewing box, and the valve springs 
used to balance the string tension were 
salvaged from a 1928 motorcycle. The 
Mays produced a carefully considered 
instrument, and after varnishing in deep 
red mahogany, the guitar took on the 
name "Red Special." 

The guitars clean tone also 
came from the Vox AC30 
amplifier, and Irish rocker 
Rory Gallagher showed May 
how to set it up and drive it to 
achieve that tone. Another 
part of the equation was a tre- 
ble booster, which, as May 
says, "drives the amp into 
smooth distortion as it gets rid 
of a little of the low end." Cou- 
ple that with Burns' pickups 
that May installed into the Red 
Special, and you came out with 
a unique sound in rock 'n' roll. 

"It's a small 
scope, but it 
still gives me 
pleasure ...the 
be wheeled 
out in 10 
seconds flat if 
there's some- 
thing interest- 
ing in the sky." 

< Tenerife Observatory 
in the Canary Islands saw 
Brian May working in 1971 
on his coelostat, a flat-mirror 
instrument that tracks the sky. 

Brian May Archive 

Another part of May's approach was the 
unusual habit of using a British sixpence 
coin as a pick. "I discovered the old six- 
pence coin, which had a reeded edge, and 
found that if I held it parallel to the strings, 
it would produce a smooth, nice, warm 
sound. If I held it at an increasing angle, I'd 
get this rasp that mimicked the consonants 
from articulating a voice. That was another 
ingredient in making the 
guitar talk." 

A fellow student, Dave 
Dilloway, also played guitar, 
and together with some 
other schoolmates, they 
formed an early band. The 
coverage included music 
from the Beatles, Manfred 
Mann, the Moody Blues, and 
other groups. By 1964, May 
was getting used to his new 
guitar and continued trying 
out new personnel, forming 
a band called 1984, the name 

taken from the George Orwell novel. His 
principal partner was vocalist and bassist 
Tim Staffell. 

In the same year, British colonial rule in 
the far-off African Republic of Zanzibar was 
weakening. Now part of Tanzania, Zanzibar 
was then separate, and the island nation was 
cast into political chaos. One of the many 
families moving away to other locales to 
avoid potential violence was that of 17-year- 
old Farrokh Bulsara, a Parsi who had grown 
up in Zanzibar and also in India. (His father 
worked for the British Colonial Office.) 
Nicknamed Freddie, this young man was an 
accomplished pianist and aspiring artist and 
musician. With the revolution in Zanzibar, 
the Bulsara family moved to London to 
start life anew. In fact, they moved to a 
small house in Feltham only a few hundred 
yards away from that of Brian May. 


For May, the balance between school and 
music was a fine line that sometimes tee- 
tered one way or the other. Described at the 
time as "serious-minded" or even "shel- 
tered," May was expected to excel at his 
studies and then perhaps branch out and 
play and experience the world a bit by the 
time he was about 20. But many teenage 29 

Exclusive interview 

r m?i 

a i 

A Freddie Mercury and Brian May at the Marquee Club in London on December 20, 1972. © Queen production 


4 The famous 
Red Special 

is one of rock's 
most celebrated 
guitars. Brian 
May has played 
it for 48 years 
and counting. 

Richard Gray, © Duck 
Productions Ltd. 

musical groups were moving away from 
their studies and following the Beatles' path 
to glory, or so they thought. "I completed 
my studies, O-levels [high-school-level 
exams] , and applied for various universi- 
ties," says May. Astronomy and space sci- 
ence had become increasingly attractive to 
him through his schoolwork. 

Unlike most of his contemporaries, 
May did it all. In the music world, he saw 
Jimi Hendrix play in London, which trans- 
formed and inspired his idea of guitar 
playing and what it ought to be. 1984 was 
busy playing gigs, May adorned in 
Hendrix-style clothes and sporting Beatle- 
like hair. On May 13, 1967, the band 
played at Imperial College in London on 
the same bill as The Jimi Hendrix Experi- 
ence, the day after the latter released its 
first album, Are You Experienced? lust 
after the new year, however, May quit 
1984. A new band formed by May and 
Staffell recruited a blond-haired drum- 
mer they had met in the bar at Imperial 
College, Roger Taylor, age 18, who 
hailed from Cornwall. They wanted 
a "high-energy" drummer in the 
mold of Mitch Mitchell or Ginger 
Baker, and Taylor would produce 
admirably. The new band that 
started forward in 1968 would be 
called Smile. 
"Jimi Hendrix really opened up 
the heavens," says May. "Its really hard 
to imagine the world without Jimi 
because he changed it so much. All of us 
thought we knew what guitar playing was. 

Jimi tore asunder all the limitations that 
none of us really knew were there." May 
saw Hendrix several times and sometimes 
went with Freddie. "And it was always the 
same — things would just be falling to bits 
around him, but it was the sound of heaven 
coming from the stage. Absolutely unrea- 
sonably colossal." 

Academics rolled forward, too. May 
attended Imperial College, studying math- 
ematics and physics among other subjects, 
and was graduated with an upper second- 
class degree. The physics was clearly lead- 
ing to astronomy. On October 24, 1968, 
May received his Bachelor of Science 
degree in physics from the Queen Mother 
at the Royal Albert Hall. Two days later, 
Smile picked up considerable steam by 
opening for Pink Floyd. 

Operating on all cylinders, May now 
applied for several academic posts. "I was 
offered a job in Jodrell Bank, which was 
just beginning to be an important radio 
astronomy facility in England," he says. 
"And Sir Bernard Lovell was there. That 
was a dream, really, but — being the kid 
that I was — I was so involved with music 
in London and didn't want to leave my 
friends. So I turned it down. I'm not proud 
of it because I'm not sure it was the right 
thing to do." 

Instead, May accepted an offer to go to 
Imperial College, which would keep him in 
London, able to play music. May thought he 
was going to do infrared astronomy, which 
was really just beginning at the time. "The 
strange thing is that Professor Jim Ring, the 

30 Astronomy- September 2012 

department head, was involved in optical 
spectrometry at the time and looking to 
radial velocities," says May. "And so I some- 
how got hooked into this whole program!" 
May thought he would be interested in 
working on radial velocities, but "was a little 
scared at the time because then spectrom- 
etry was a little arcane, or so I thought." 

Ring and his colleagues were interested 
in a novel idea: looking at the radial veloci- 
ties of particles in the zodiacal dust cloud 
and beginning to understand how dust in 
the plane of the solar system is moving. 
"This appealed to me," he says, "so I said, 
'Yes, I'm your man — I'll take this on as a 
project!'" The researchers were looking for 
"clean" spectral lines that would allow them 
to detect Doppler shifts, indicating motion, 
and they settled on magnesium I, which 
corresponds to the easiest transition line of 
the magnesium atom. 

"We looked for it in the zodiacal light," 
says May, "and, of course, the zodiacal light 
is not a very well-known phenomenon even 
to this day. But we were looking at this 
green line reflected in the dust and looking 
for a shift in the frequency of that line, 
which would then show us how the dust 
was moving." May and his colleagues were 
able to make a velocity map of the dust as 
opposed to what everyone else was doing, 
simply making positional maps. It was 
somewhat revolutionary at the time. 

And when he wasn't working away on 
the dynamics of the zodiacal dust cloud, 
May kept hammering away with Smile. 
Throughout 1969, the band played gigs 
around London, and they picked up, from 
early on, an "ardent fan" who was "full of 
suggestions." This fan desperately wanted 
to be in the band and was quite a promis- 
ing singer. "No," said May at the time. "Tim 
[Staffell] is the lead singer. He'd never wear 
it." The kid kept hanging around and 
slowly began to be noticed more and more 
by everyone. He was very shy but "cloaked 
in a persona," May recalls. The kid was 
Freddie Bulsara. 

Here comes Queen 

Freddie Bulsara spent the 
next few months looking for a 
band to sing with. He spent 
stints in Ibex and Sour Milk 
Sea, but by early 1970 spats 
and lineup changes left him 
looking for a band again. He 
and Roger Taylor each had a 

"It's really hard 
to imagine the 
world without 
Jimi [Hendrix] 
because he 
changed it 
so much." 

Queen got a big break when 
Molt the Hoople included 
them on a tour of England in 

1 973. © Queen Productions Ltd. 

stand, selling clothes 
and gear, at London's 
Kensington Market. 
May, although still 
involved with Smile, 
was away, studying 
astronomy in Tenerife 
in the Canary Islands. 
He had a Spanish 
guitar on the moun- 
tain he had recently 

bought, and his professors, among them 
Jim Ring and Ken Reay, found his playing 
amusing. "I think Ken thought it was quite 
funny," says May. "He had a sly little smile 
on his face that said, 'Obviously, you'll 
never get anywhere.'" 

When May returned to London, he 
found that Tim Staffell wanted to move 
on, and after some coaxing, Freddie 
wound his way into a new band that con- 
sisted of May, Taylor, Bulsara, and, for 
some months to come, a rotation of bass 
players. Eventually, by mid- 1971, the guys 
found a bassist who would 
stay in John Deacon, a 
19-year-old electronics stu- 
dent from central England 
who had played with some 
other London groups. 

Well before then, two 
big name changes had oc- 
curred. Freddie suggested 
the new band's name, 

The 1975 hit 

"Bohemian Rhapsody" marked 

a turning point for Queen's success. Here, the 

band poses for a photo session for the single 

COVer Of the SOng. OQueen Productions Ltd. 

Queen, taken from the hippy world cen- 
tered on Kensington Market, which prom- 
inently included gay culture — and 
Freddie would himself have gay relation- 
ships, although at this time he was still 
ensconced with his live-in lover, Mary 
Austin. Secondly, Freddie had written a 
song he really liked called "My Fairy 
King," which included the line "Oh 
Mother Mercury what have you done to 
me?" Freddie decided on a dramatic stage 
name change, and the world was intro- 
duced, slowly at first, to Freddie Mercury. 

The band's first demo led to a first 
album, Queen, released in 1973. Its moder- 
ate success produced a tour mostly in Eng- 
land later that year. 31 

Exclusive interview 


< Queen in concert 
during 1980's The Game 

lOUr. o Queen Productions Ltd. 

▼ A group shot of Queen 
from 1979 during sessions 
for The Game, later used for 
the single release of "Save 


Queen Productions Ltd. 

Goodbye, for now, 
to astronomy 

During the Queen years, 
astronomy remained a passion 
in May's mind, but professional 
astronomy went dormant. "If I 
could ever maneuver my way into 
a place where there were clear 
skies at night, I would always do 
that on tour," he says. "I kept in 
touch with the guys at Imperial 
College and read some of the lit- 
erature, but I wasn't really a student 
of astronomy during those years." 

And yet he became a tour guide, 
showing the sky to many other 
musicians. "Lots of people really like that, 
and, of course, it's incredible how many 
people who live in cities rarely get to see the 
Milky Way, for instance," May says. "There 
were so many times when people have said, 
'My God, I've never seen that!' when seeing 
the planets, or star clusters, or M31. It's nice 
to be able to share that with people who 
don't know about it." 

As with many bands of the era, despite 
successful album releases and touring, 
Queen's individual members were slow to 
accumulate the benefits. This was partly 
due to the crazy system of the companies 
essentially fronting monies to the bands 
that had to be paid back to the labels, and 
to the dealings of the band's first manager, 
Norman Sheffield, who would be savagely 
remembered in Mercury's delightfully 
nasty song "Death on Two Legs (Dedicated 
to ... )," from the 1975 album A Night at the 
Opera. But the band was achieving success 
and becoming famous, so May abandoned 

his astron- 
omy, for the time being, to get 
on with rock 'n' roll. And Queen caught a 
big break when they toured with the estab- 
lished act Mott the Hoople. 

A second album, Queen II, followed in 
1974. The band toured England, Germany, 
and other parts of Europe in support in 
1974 and continued their moderate suc- 
cess. Queen then went into its first tour of 
the United States, Canada, and Japan, 
which was planned for the first half of the 
year. But waking up in Boston, Massachu- 
setts, one April morning, May found he 
was barely able to move. He gazed in the 
mirror, and his face was yellow. Doctors 
diagnosed him with hepatitis, and the tour 
stopped, Queen flying back to England and 
May recuperating in bed. A late 1974 tour 
concentrated on Europe. 

Released near year's end, Sheer Heart 
Attack offered several hit songs, but it was 
the album's second track, "Killer Queen" 
— often claimed as "the most beautiful 
song ever written about a prostitute" — that 

really helped the band. At the time, Brian 
lived in a single room apartment in Earl's 
Court with his girlfriend, Christine Mullen. 
"We mainly lived on fish in a bag and cod 
fingers," he says. A London attorney, Jim 
Beach, began extricating Queen from its 
contracts, and soon the band signed with 
EMI and had new management. Now its 
success could move forward fairly. May and 
Mullen married in 1974, and the couple 
produced three children, James (now 34), 
Louisa (31), and Emily (25). 

The next release, A Night at the Opera, 
made Queen international superstars. Not 
only was the album full of memorable and 
electric hits, but one of them, 
Freddie's "Bohemian Rhapsody," 
exploded as a huge smash. It 
began years earlier in Freddie's 
mind as "The Cowboy Song," a 
simple ditty that commenced 
with, "Mama, just killed a man." 
Inspired by the Beatles' "A Day 
in the Life," the song became a 
three-part "mock opera," in 
Freddie's words, whose middle 
operatic section married refer- 
ences to Galileo, the 17th- 
century Italian clown Scara- 
mouche, Rossani and 
Mozart's operatic character 
Figaro, the Arabic prayer 
expression "bismillah," and 
the Spanish and Portuguese folk dance 
known as the fandango. 

There was also Brian's great sci-fi folk 
song '"39," about interstellar travel; Roger's 
rocked-out "I'm in Love with My Car"; and 
John's sentimental "You're My Best Friend." 
Not to mention Freddie's lasting "Love of 
My Life" and Brian's working of "God Save 
the Queen," which would be used again and 
again as a live concert coda. Now Queen 
had arrived with unrelenting momentum, 
careening success, big money, unbounded 
critical acclaim, and another major touring 
romp in 1975 through Great Britain. From 
then on, the mere first keystrokes of Fred- 
die's, hammering out the intro to "Rhap- 
sody," would produce screams and cheers in 
concert. The sky was now the limit. 

The next album, A Day at the Races, 
contained one of May's best straight-out 
rockers in "Tie Your Mother Down," which 
became a live favorite. It also contained a 
spectacular vocal gospel anthem, inspired 
by Aretha Franklin and written by Mercury, 
in "Somebody to Love," one of Freddie's 

32 Astronomy- September 2012 

Freddie Mercury and Brian May record "One 

Vision" in the StUdiO in 1985. © Queen Productions Ltd. 

favorites. "Freddie certainly loved that son 
at the time," says May. "It was all about 
Aretha Franklin for Freddie. She was a huge 
influence. I said to some people that I think 
sometimes Freddie wants to be Aretha in 
pretty clothes. So it was very much gospel 
construction and allowed him to sing in the 
way which he loved." 

The band toured the United States, 
Japan, and Australia in early 1976. The 
following year saw an enormously long 
tour schedule around the world and the 
release of News of the World, a spectacu- 
larly successful album that contained two 
explosive hits. Having challenged each 
other to write "anthems" in which concert- 
goers could participate to the fullest, Brian 
composed "We Will Rock You," which 
since has become one of the best-known 
arena rock songs of all time. Its recording 
with the double thump followed by single 
hand clap came about when May found a 
bunch of loose boards in a studio hallway 
and the guys experimented with stomping 
on them followed by a clap. Freddie pro- 
duced the anthem "We Are the Champi- 
ons," a song so bold and outrageous in its 
ego that at first the other band 
members thought they simply 
couldn't do it. 

The next album, Jazz, was 
released in 1978 and again 
contained some high-powered 
hits. Just as "We Will Rock 
You" and "We Are the Cham- 
pions" were linked, Brian and 
Freddie created a twosome of 
songs for this release. Brian's 
tongue-in-cheek "Fat 

Brian May performs during the Montreal Forum show in early 1981 that was captured as the DVD 
Queen Rock Montreal, e Queen productions Ltd. 

'If I could ever 
maneuver my 
way into a 
place where 
there were 
clear skies at 
night, I would 
always do that 
on tour." 

Bottomed Girls" was lyrically linked to 
Freddie's curious and poetic "Bicycle Race." 
The album also contained "Let Me Enter- 
tain You," which became a live favorite, and 
Freddie's "Don't Stop Me Now," which sym- 
bolized his increasingly rambunctious and 
reckless lifestyle in the gay community. 
When asked about his flamboyant and wild 
antics, Freddie simply retorted, "I sleep 
with men, women, cats, you name it." 

The greatest band of the 1980s 

Queen entered the 1980s with a new album, 
The Game, and a new and ambitious tour 
plan. This included the hits by Freddie "Play 
the Game" and one of Queen's biggest songs, 
"Crazy Little Thing Called Love." It also fea- 
tured May's "Save Me," a hit and one that in 
later years would be used as a symbol for his 
campaigns against animal cruelty. Deacons 
funk-inspired "Another One Bites the Dust" 
would also be a huge hit for the band all 
over the world. The band 
also recorded an album to 
serve as the soundtrack for 
the sci-fi film Flash Gordon. 

1982's Hot Space 
included a big hit that 
resulted from a chance ses- 
sion with old London friend 
David Bowie. "Under Pres- 
sure" was an effort between 
Deacon, who came up with 
the repeating bass line, 

Bowie, and the other three Queen mem- 
bers — although at first May was unenthu- 
siastic. The song and its famous scat 
singing by Mercury nonetheless caught on 
and became a huge concert staple. 

Queen now routinely filled huge out- 
door stadiums, and the band's incredible 
musicianship, Freddie's outrageous stage 
persona and amazing voice, and great songs 
had it riding high as the greatest band of 
the era. The pace was crushing, though, 
and things had to slow down a little. In 
1984, The Works included May's hard- 
rocking "Hammer to Fall" and "Tear It Up," 
as well as Taylor's "Radio Ga Ga," inspired 
by his infant son's words. "Is This the World 
We Created ... ?," co-written by May and 
Mercury, soared in concert as an acoustic 
ballad. Deacon's "I Want to Break Free" was 
a big success that didn't fare well in the 
United States. The band's video featuring 
the guys in drag didn't work in the Ameri- 
can Bible Belt, and Queen lost steam in 
America because of it. 

Following another major tour, Queen 
was convinced to play in a fundraising 
event organized by Bob Geldof of the 
Boomtown Rats, who hoped to raise sig- 
nificant monies to combat widespread 
famine in Ethiopia. Called Live Aid, the 
event would consist of two concerts July 
13, 1985, one at JFK Stadium in Philadel- 
phia, Pennsylvania, and the other at Wem- 
bley Stadium in London. 33 

Exclusive interview 


Brian May rocks out on a solo in 2005 during 
the Queen+Paul Rodgers tour. ©Queen productions Ltd. 

Amid an all-star lineup, Queen stole the 
show during its 21 -minute set that opened 
with "Bohemian Rhapsody" and closed 
with "We Are the Champions." It was the 
band's greatest moment, witnessed by 1.9 
billion people, and played out on its favorite 
stage at Wembley. May and Mercury closed 
out the show later in the day by playing and 
singing "Is This the World We Created ... ?," 
which seemed to have been made for the 
cause. "We wrote that song together as a 
rare event," says Brian. "We just sat down 
and said we need something personal and 
intimate, and talked about the state the 
world was in. It was one of those great 
moments when you can just feel it coming 
out. That was one of the few times we col- 
laborated directly in that way." 

But what was May's biggest memory of 
Live Aid? "Well," he says. "I think the 
moment when everyone's hands went into 
the air to 'Radio Ga Ga' was one, because 
the audience had not paid to see us. It was a 
great confirmation that people not only 
knew the song, but also had seen the video 
and knew what to do. The power of the 
video was amazing because the whole sev- 
enty thousand in the Old Wembley Sta- 
dium just erupted into that synchronized 
arm movement." 

Live Aid reinvigorated Queen, and the 
band launched into another album, A Kind 
of Magic, and subsequent tour in 1986. 
Some of the songs had been written for the 
movie Highlander, and the hits were "One 

34 Astronomy- September 2012 

Vision," written as a shared credit by all 
four; Taylor's "A Kind of Magic"; "Friends 
Will be Friends," written by Deacon and 
Mercury; and May's "Who Wants to Live 
Forever." The tour, though limited to 
Europe, was the most extravagant stadium 
outing yet — and it would be the last one 
with Freddie Mercury The last show all 
four would play together came August 9, 
1986, at Knebworth Park, north of London. 

In 1988, rumors swirled around Mer- 
cury's health as he appeared increasingly 
thin and gaunt. Denials came out quickly 
to protect him, but the truth was that he 
had contracted HIV and was increasingly 
ill. The band continued with albums but 
stopped touring. 1988's The Miracle pre- 
sented special highlights in May's "I 
Want It All" and Mercury's "The Mira- 
cle." Two years later, Innuendo was 
released. The album featured three songs 
that struck a special chord with fans, espe- 
cially watching a clearly ill Mercury work- 
ing through the videos "I'm Going Slightly 
Mad," "The Show Must Go On," and "These 
Are the Days of Our Lives." In November 
1991, as he was terribly sick and bedridden, 
Mercury issued a statement confirming he 
did have AIDS, and he died 24 hours later. 
The band's final album featuring all four 
musicians, Made in Heaven, was released 
four years after Freddie's death. 

A new beginning — and 
back to astronomy 

During the late 1980s, May had many chal- 
lenges. Mercury's illness had a depressing 
effect on the band. "There was all that time 
when we knew Freddie was on the way 
out," he says, "we kept our heads down." 
Moreover, May's first marriage ended in 
1988, and he fell into a serious depression 
that lasted into the early 1990s. He has even 
stated that he contemplated suicide. "My 
life was falling apart," he says. And, in a 
way, astronomy was responsible for bring- 
ing him back into a new life, one that came 
together after his struggles. 

"I was deeply depressed," he 
says of this period. "I suppose I 
would call myself a spiritual 
person in a sense, but I don't 
really subscribe to any of the 
formal religions," says May. "I 
went to this clinic in Tucson, 
Arizona, when I was very down, 
and they said, 'We have to find 
your spirituality — what you 

most enjoy' At the time, I couldn't think of 
anything I enjoyed. I was just in a very 
black place. And then eventually I figured 
out, because of the beautiful skies there, 
that one of my greatest joys was just look- 
ing at the stars. So I feel anchored to the 
universe in some way. It's quite a powerful 
force in my life." 

May says that seeing the dark night sky 
from Tucson was a driving force in getting 
him back on track. "I would look up at the 
stars and see Orion and the winter Milky 
Way and call them the brave stars because 
there seemed to be such strength up there 
that I could hook onto." 

Music, of course, continued after Mer- 
cury's death. There was the Freddie Mer- 
cury Tribute Concert at Wembley in 1992. 
May also recorded several works with a 
changing lineup dubbed the Brian May 
Band. For several years starting in 2005, 
Queen+Paul Rodgers toured with the for- 
mer lead singer of Free and Bad Company. 
One of May's biggest musical moments 
came in 2002 when he and Taylor played on 
the roof of Buckingham Palace to help cel- 
ebrate Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee — 
and something like a billion people saw it. 

More recently, the band celebrated its 
40th anniversary with a release of its whole 
catalog with numerous bonus tracks and 
with a special book, 40 Years of Queen. And 
May has many other musical activities, 

playing here and there with British singer 
Kerry Ellis and recording with rap singer 
Dappy among them. A short time ago, May 
and Taylor announced concert dates this 
year as Queen, playing with American Idol 
vocalist Adam Lambert. And May married 
again in 2000, this time to Anita Dobson, 
actress on the British drama EastEnders, 
whom he had met in the late 1980s. 

When asked about his own musical leg- 
acy, May replies, "Well, I suppose 'We Will 
Rock You' will be written on my tombstone 
because that's the one which connected so 
many people around the world. You know, 
every day people send me clips of their 
babies on YouTube singing it. Soon there 
will be a fetus in the womb going 'boom 
boom chick' with its feet and hands. I feel 
happy that it encircled the globe like that." 

Meanwhile, astronomy reemerged into 
May's life with great force in the form of his 
old friend Sir Patrick Moore. "Patrick has 
been such a huge force in my life," he says. 
"We met for the first time when Patrick was 
playing himself in a radio drama that my 
friend Dirk Maggs was making for the 
BBC. So we actually did meet, and we did 
get on like a house on fire and have been 
firm friends ever since." 

May had been out of astronomy for 
some time, and Patrick "invited me back 
in," he says. "I appeared on his Sky at Night 
program, the very program I'd been allowed 
to stay up late and watch as a kid. And from 
time to time, Patrick would just say, 'Why 
don't you finish off your Ph.D.?'" 

May was skeptical. Hadn't the field 
changed too much in 30 years? Moore told 
him that in his particular area of motions 
in the zodiacal dust cloud, the research 
hadn't moved too much. "And the strange 
thing is," says May, "I started to talk about it 
in interviews, just as one of the things that 
was on my mind, and somehow the head of 
astrophysics at Imperial College heard one 
of the interviews and called me, inviting me 
to come back!" The offer was serious, and 
so, as Brian says, "Who's going to say no?" 

So Michael Rowan-Robinson served as 
the advisor, and May finished the research. 
In 2007, he submitted his dissertation, and 
it was published by Springer- Verlag as A 
Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal 
Dust Cloud. The next year, he co-authored 
a popular astronomy book, Bang! The Com- 
plete History of the Universe, with Moore 
and Chris Lintott, published by Johns Hop- 
kins. And the following year, his interest in 


In recent years, Brian May has found a comfortable mixture of music, astronomy, stereography, 
and animal welfare activism — all of which were childhood passions. Brian May Archive 

stereophotography produced a collabora- 
tive book with Elena Vidal, A Village Lost 
and Found, which presented the stereo 
views of an Oxfordshire village taken by 
T. R. Williams in the 1850s. (For more on 
May's interest in stereo imagery, see "Brian 
May's world of stereo astro pictures" in the 
January 2012 issue of Astronomy.) 

When he's not playing music, worrying 
about astronomy, or fiddling with stereo 
photography, May is passionate about ani- 
mal welfare, and he blogs about it on his 
website, Fox hunting, 
badger culls, and other activities raise May's 
ire and keep him focused on journalists, 
members of Britain's Parliament, and the 
public with his energetic activism. "The 
interest in animals was always there," he 
says, "and I always promised myself that the 
time would come when I could devote time 
to doing something about it." 

May is as busy as ever these days. "I'm 
ashamed to say I get so little time to 
observe the sky," he says. "I live in England, 
where you don't get clear skies very often, 
and if you do, you rush out with the first 
telescope that comes to hand." His favorite 
sky objects? "I get most excited about plan- 
ets, so I'm a local man, really. I never get 
tired of Jupiter and Saturn." He was also a 

bit of a total solar eclipse addict for a while, 
seeing four or five eclipses out of eight or 
nine attempts. "That first time you see 
totality, you really understand where you 
are," he says, "on a piece of rock hurtling 
around the Sun. It's an awesome feeling — 
a life-changing experience." 

Where does May see the next generation 
of astronomy enthusiasts, with so many 
young kids straying away from science? 
"Well, I guess we're entering a phase where 
knowledge for its own sake is not something 
that's amassed in the brain," he says. "In the 
days of Patrick Moore, you would learn lots 
of facts and figures and details about every- 
thing you came across. But I think things 
have changed an awful lot. There's more 
emphasis on using your smarts to analyze 
what the facts mean, and more checking of 
such a huge mass of data from references 
that are so easily available now. I think we're 
moving toward looking for the meaning in 
things rather than just the pictures." 

He adds, with a laugh: "Although I love 
the pictures." ft 


Enter to win an autographed copy 
of Brian May's dissertation at, 
and check out the full biography of 
Brian May at 35 

The Sky this Month 

Martin Ratdiffe andAlister Ling describe the solar system's 
changing landscape as it appears in Earth's sky. 

September 2012 

Uranus reaches its peak 

Uranus glows at magnitude 5.7 during September. It lies near the border 
between Pisces and Cetus at opposition on the 29th. Astronomy. Roen Keiiy 

Saturn and Mars 
grace the twilight as 
September evenings 
unfold. Jupiter 
becomes the main 
attraction in the morning sky as 
it climbs high before dawn. Its 
companion for the past several 
months, brilliant Venus, now 
hangs lower in the sky. The 
morning "star" still offers early 
risers a treat, however, particu- 
larly when it passes near the 
fine Beehive star cluster in mid- 
September. In the solar systems 
outer reaches, Uranus and Nep- 
tune put on fine shows all night. 
Our tour of the solar system 
begins in evening twilight, 
where three planets vie for 
attention. The lead player 
remains Saturn. The ringed 
planet lies about 10° high in the 
west- southwest an hour after 
the Sun goes down in early Sep- 
tember. Shining at magnitude 
0.8, it appears brighter than any 
other object in this part of the 
sky. Virgo's brightest star, mag- 
nitude 1.0 Spica, is a close sec- 
ond. You can find this luminary 
5° below Saturn. 

The star and planet sink 
lower with each passing day. 
By months end, Saturn dips 
below the horizon just 60 min- 
utes after sunset. It will pass 
behind the Sun in late October 
and return to view before dawn 
a few weeks later. 

Saturn's low altitude means 
we must view it through more 
of Earth's turbulent atmosphere, 
so sharp views through a tele- 
scope will be hard to come by. 


Uranus comes 
to opposition 



Meteor watch 



Rising Moon 



When to view 
the planets 



Bright triangle 
in twilight 



Comet search 



Locating asteroids /&■ A 


Venus buzzes 
the Beehive 


<B> Visible to the naked eye 

Ak Visible with binoculars 

^ Visible with a telescope 

Still, the ringed planet looks 
mesmerizing and certainly is 
worth observing at low to 
medium magnification. In early 
September, the ring system 
spans 36" and tilts 14° to our 
line of sight. By the time Saturn 
returns to view in November, 
the rings will tilt 18° and appear 
even more spectacular. 

If you look approximately 
10° to Saturn's left in early Sep- 
tember, your eyes will land 
on Mars. The Red Planet shines 
at magnitude 1.2, slightly but 
noticeably fainter than Saturn. 
Mars' ruddy glow contrasts 
nicely with the ringed planet's 
yellowish hue, particularly if 
you take advantage of the extra 
light-gathering power binocu- 
lars provide. 

The two planets don't stay 
close for long. Mars moves rap- 
idly eastward against the starry 

36 Astronomy- September 2012 

background and travels from 
eastern Virgo through most of 
Libra this month. On Septem- 
ber 15, the planet passes 1° 
south of the fine double star 
Zubenelgenubi (Alpha [a] 
Librae). Four days later, a wax- 
ing crescent Moon lies a couple 
of degrees to Mars' left. Unfor- 
tunately, the planet doesn't offer 
much to observers who target 
it through a telescope. Its 
5"-diameter disk shows little, 
if any, detail. 

Innermost Mercury makes a 
brief appearance low in the west 
as September ends. The planet 
stands 14° east of the Sun on 
the 30th, but most of that dis- 
tance runs parallel to the hori- 
zon and not perpendicular. 
From 40° north latitude, Mer- 
cury appears a mere 2° high 20 
minutes after sunset. Observers 
will need a flat, unobstructed 
horizon and a pristine sky to 
pick out the planet. Its one 

Martin Ratcliffe provides profes- 
sional planetarium development 
for Sky-Skan, Inc., from his home 
in Wichita, Kansas. Meteorologist 
Alister Ling works for Environment 
Canada in Edmonton, Alberta. 

Risinq Moon 

saving grace is that it shines 
brightly at magnitude -0.4. 

Pluto resides less than 1° 
southwest of the easy-to-see 
open star cluster M25 in north- 
ern Sagittarius. This so-called 
dwarf planet is one of the larg- 
est solar system objects known 
beyond Neptune. Pluto lies 
far enough from the Sun, how- 
ever, that it glows faintly at 
magnitude 14.1. 

The distant world's westerly 
motion relative to the back- 
ground stars halts September 
17. It then heads slowly east 
and a bit south and, by the 30th, 
arrives within 7' of the 8th- 
magnitude star HD 170120, 
which is noticeable for its dis- 
tinct orange color when viewed 
through a telescope. Although 
Pluto is difficult to see visually 
in an instrument smaller than 
10 inches in aperture, it's a nice 
target for a CCD camera. In late 
September, aim at the orange 
star and take one 30-second 
image on two or three consecu- 
tive nights. You'll easily capture 
Pluto and its nightly motion. 

Neptune currently lies 55° 
east of Pluto in the constella- 
tion Aquarius. The eighth 

— Continued on page 42 

Meteor watch 

Polaris • ." 



•. • * 





•* ' 

.V** ' •aw 

Radiant ARI 

ES ' " 

^^, 4 



Capella* '.. 


• Pleiades 





1 1 

September^ 11 PM. 
Looking northeast 

BMl«*< •*«■* . 

The Epsilon Perseid meteor shower should produce about five 
meteors per hour the night of September 9/10. Observers will have 
Moon-free viewing during late evening. Astronomy. Roen Keiiy 

Will Perseus erupt two months in a row? 

September typically is a month of few meteors, particularly when 
compared with the activity associated with August's Perseid 
shower. But there is hope. The International Meteor Organization 
(IMO) has identified a relatively new shower called the Epsilon 
Perseids. In 2008, observers saw an unexpected flurry of bright 
meteors emanating from Perseus. The shower remains active from 
September 4 to 1 4 and peaks the night of September 9/1 0. 

For Northern Hemisphere viewers, Perseus rises in late evening. 
This leaves a few hours of dark skies before the Moon pokes above 
the horizon shortly after midnight local daylight time. Although 
the IMO doesn't expect a repeat of the 2008 outburst, the only 
people who will know for sure are those watching the sky. 

Rough seas mark a crater's debris 

If there's a best face to the Moon, it's the thick crescent seen a day or 
two before First Quarter phase. Smooth "seas" seemingly sport large 
waves, big craters take your breath away, and small impact scars 
stand out by casting long shadows. On the evening of September 
20, the dramatic Serpentine Ridge is sure to grab your attention. This 
feature snakes north-south across the eastern part of Mare Serenita- 
tis (the Sea of Serenity). Geologically speaking, it's a compression 
feature and not a frozen wave rippling through the lava. 

Scan just south of the equator, and you'll find Theophilus, a sharp- 
edged crater that spans approximately 60 miles. Although it remains 
largely under the cover of night on the 20th, the Sun rises above the 
crater's rim on the 21 st to produce a scene similar to the one pic- 
tured here. That's the best time to examine its complex jumble of 
central peaks and slumped terraces on the crater's walls. The impact 
that created Theophilus spread a rugged apron of debris northward 
into MareTranquillitatis (the Sea of Tranquility). Astronomers aptly 
named this region Sinus Asperitatis — the Bay of Roughness. 

Also look closely at the unusual double crater Torricelli, located 
just north of Theophilus. Astronomers believe that its pear shape 
comes from a single glancing blow and not two unrelated events. 

Sharp-edged crater Theophilus stands out shortly before First Quarter 
Moon. Look slightly north of this impact site for the jumbled terrain of 
Sinus Asperitatis and pear-shaped crater Torricelli. consolidated Lunar ahos/umlpl 

Essentially, what was left of the impacting projectile blasted through 
the back wall as the crater was forming. Torricelli sits off-center in an 
ancient battered bowl filled to the brim with lava. 37 

The all-sky map shows 
how the sky looks at: 

10 p.m. September 1 
9 p.m. September 15 
8 p.m. September 30 

Planets are shown 


9 *V' 


«0* < J 

/ V 


* *. 


• AQ Uu - \ 

• |a^ 





• Sirius :...: Open duster 

• °'° Globular cluster 

m jo LJ Diffuse nebula 

3-0 -d}- Planetary nebula 

- 5.0 O Galaxy 


•it 1 fc 

• b 7~,* it ' 



^m * # *** 

September 2012 

Note: Moon phases in the 
calendar vary in size due to the 
distance from Earth and are 
shown at Oh Universal Time. 




























































Calendar of events 

1 Venus passes 9° south of Pollux, 
6 p.m. EDT 

2 The Moon passes 5° north of Uranus, 

8 P.M. EDT 

3 Asteroid Parthenope is at opposition, 
6 a.m. EDT 

7 The Moon is at apogee (251, 21 7 
miles from Earth), 2:00 a.m. EDT 

8 The Moon passes 0.6° south of 
Jupiter, 7 a.m. EDT 

fc Last Quarter Moon occurs at 
W 9:1 5 a.m. EDT 

9 The Moon passes 0.6° north of 
asteroid Ceres, 5 a.m. EDT 

1 Mercury is in superior conjunction, 

9 a.m. EDT 

12 The Moon passes 4° south of Venus, 
1 p.m. EDT 

15 ^^k New Moon occurs at 
^^ 10:11 P.M. EDT 

1 7 Pluto is stationary, 5 p.m. EDT 

18 The Moon passes 0.8° south of 
Spica, 1 a.m. EDT 

The Moon passes 5° south of 
Saturn, 10 a.m. EDT 

The Moon is at perigee (227,268 
miles from Earth), 10:49 p.m. EDT 

19 The Moon passes 0.2° south of Mars, 
5 p.m. EDT 

22 Autumnal equinox occurs at 
1 0:49 A.M. EDT 

M First Quarter Moon occurs at 
™ 3:41 P.M. EDT 

23 The Moon passes 0.4° south of Pluto, 
3 a.m. EDT 

24 Asteroid Pallas is at opposition, 
1 1 p.m. EDT 

27 The Moon passes 6° north of 
Neptune, 7 a.m. EDT 

Special observing date 

29 Uranus reaches its 201 2 peak 
today, shining at magnitude 
5.7 and appearing 3.7" across 
through a telescope. 

29 Uranus is at opposition, 3 a.m. EDT 

Full Moon occurs at 
11 :19 p.m. EDT 

30 The Moon passes 5° north of Uranus, 
1 a.m. EDT 

Mercury passes 1 .8° north of Spica, 
10 p.m. EDT 

Planets in September 2012 





Angular size 


Distance (AU) from Earth 

Distance (AU) from Sun 

Right ascension (2000.0) 

Declination (2000.0) 

September 30 



September 15 




September 15 

September 15 















1 1 injf aw'c rYlAAhC ^ ots display positions of Galilean satellites at 4 a.m. EDT on the date shown. 

South is at the top to match the view through a telescope. 



7 zfr 





13 o ^fc^Q- JUPITER 



* -- «*v-** 






I Astronomy- September 2012 

This map unfolds the entire night sky from sunset (at right) until sunrise (at left). 

Arrows and colored dots show motions and locations of solar system objects during the month. 


September 15 




September IS 

September 15 

September 15 
























22 hi 3.0m 




The planets in their orbits 


Arrows and dots show 
planets' positions 
during September. 

is September 29 



Continued from page 37 

When to view the planets 


Mercury (west) 
Mars (southwest) 
Saturn (west) 
Uranus (east) 
Neptune (southeast) 


Jupiter (east) Venus (east) 

Uranus (southeast) Jupiter (southeast) 

Neptune (south) Uranus (west) 

planet reached opposition and 
peak visibility in late August, 
and it remains a fine target 
through binoculars and tele- 
scopes all night. 

You can find it in the same 
binocular field as both 4th- 
magnitude Iota (i) Aquarii and 
5th-magnitude 38 Aqr (which 
resides 2.5° north-northeast of 
Iota). The planet begins Sep- 
tember nearly 1° due east of the 
latter star and closes the month 
just 22' southeast of it. 

Neptune glows at magnitude 
7.8, just within range of hand- 
held 7x50 binoculars. When 
mounted on a tripod, the same 
binoculars easily reveal Nep- 
tune as well as many fainter 

Comet search 

stars. Use your telescope and a 
high -power eyepiece to see the 
planets 2.4"-diameter disk and 
blue-gray color. 

Head one constellation far- 
ther east, and you'll land on 
the current home of Uranus. 
This planet reaches opposition 
September 29, when it lies 
opposite the Sun in our sky 
and remains visible from sunset 
to sunrise. This configuration 
also brings Uranus closest to 
Earth, so it glows brighter and 
appears larger through a tele- 
scope than at any other time 
this year. One day after opposi- 
tion, the Full Moon passes 5° 
north of the planet. 

Uranus peaks at magnitude 
5.7, although it doesn't appear 

A dirty snowball invades the Herdsman 

Comet hunters have no time to lose after darkness falls this month. 
Head outside about 90 minutes after the Sun sets and find magni- 
tude 0.0 Arcturus.This bright star lies low in the west and displays 
a noticeable orange hue. (Use the circular StarDome map on pages 
38 and 39 to locate Arcturus.) 

Eight degrees southeast of Arcturus lies 4th-magnitude Zeta (Q 
Bobtis, our jumping off point for locating Comet C/201 1 F1 (LINEAR). 
You'll likely need a 6-inch or larger telescope and a dark country sky 
to bag this faint fuzzball, which astronomers expect to glow at 10th 
or 1 1 th magnitude. Try to observe during the second or third week 
of September when the Moon is gone from the evening sky. 

The comet will not be an easy target. Spotting it is like finding a 
specific tree when you've been dropped into the middle of a forest. 
Unless you've got a big scope, you likely won't see the comet at low 
power. Bump up the magnification past 100x and slowly spiral out 
from the position marked on the finder chart. Motion helps your eye 
pick out a small, soft glow. 

Although C/201 1 F1 soon will disappear in the Sun's glare, a 
recently discovered comet — C/201 2 K5 (LINEAR) — should take its 
place this winter. That would satisfy us until spring, when we may 
see our first bright naked-eye comet in a few years. Astronomers 
expect C/201 1 L4 (PanSTARRS) to reach at least 3rd or 4th magnitude 
when it comes into view in March and April 201 3. 

















• Saturn j 


• Spica 1 




• j 

&&: w 1 

' Looking west-southwest L 

Mars, Saturn, and Spica dip deeper into the twilight during September, 
but views early in the month should still be impressive. Astronomy, r,.™ Keiiy 

perceptibly fainter at any other 
time this month. Its magnitude 
makes it just bright enough to 
see with naked eyes if you 
observe under a dark sky. Bin- 
oculars or a telescope show the 
planet with ease. A telescope 
reveals Uranus' disk, which 
spans 3.7" and displays a dis- 
tinct blue-green hue. 

You can find the planet on 
the border between Pisces and 
Cetus. It lies near the equally 
bright star 44 Piscium. On Sep- 
tember 22, Uranus appears 1.4' 
due east of the star, and the two 
will look like a bright double 
through a telescope. Their dis- 
tance remains the same on the 
following night, but the planet 



• 5CSep 



' • . • 

• • 





• • 


• s 

'/ ' 


. ' • 

. / 




. /i 

1 *. 



• • 

• / 


E Path of Comet C/201 1 F1^ 



• y 

• • X * 
• '. / 15 



• • 

• / 




• ' / 17 





• • ■ • 

Comet C/201 1 F1 (LINEAR) might reach 10th magnitude this month as it 
treks through southern Bootes. Your best looks will come when the Moon 
is gone from the evening sky around mid-September. Astronomy. Roen Keiiy 

42 Astronomy- September 2012 

Locating asteroids 

Spy a mermaid swimming the autumn sky 

The celestial embodiment of the mermaid Parthenope slides through 
the constellation Aquarius the Water-bearer during September. 
Glowing at 9th magnitude, the main-belt asteroid 1 1 Parthenope is 
bright enough to see easily through a 6-inch telescope from the sub- 
urbs or large binoculars from a dark-sky site. Wait until late evening 
for this region to climb higher in the sky. It's also best to avoid the 
beginning and end of the month when a bright Moon lies nearby. 

No conspicuous stars occupy southern Aquarius, but a pair of 
modest ones will get you to the asteroid's vicinity. Delta (8) Aquarii 
and Tau (t) Aqr represent the stream of water running from Aquarius' 
amphora into the mouth of Piscis Austrinus the Southern Fish. Par- 
thenope passes within 1° of Tau in mid-September. Use the chart to 
pinpoint the asteroid, or sketch the field and return to the same area 
the next night; the object that moves is the space rock. 

In January 2011, nearly 20 amateur astronomers timed Par- 
thenope as it blocked the light of a background star. From these 
observations, astronomers determined that the asteroid is a potato- 
shaped rock 93 miles across its longest dimension. 

Ninth-magnitude Parthenope marches through southern Aquarius 
in September, passing within 1° of the moderately bright star Tau (x) 

AqUarii at midmOnth. Astronomy: Roen Kelly 

then appears southwest of the 
star. By month's end, 18' sepa- 
rate the two objects. 

Brilliant Jupiter dramati- 
cally changes the familiar 
appearance of Taurus the 
Bull, standing less than 10° 
northeast of the Hyades star 
cluster all month. Although the 
giant planet rises before mid- 
night local daylight time, the 
best views come as it climbs 
higher before dawn. It shines 
at magnitude -2.4, making it 
the brightest night-sky object 
other than the Moon and 
Venus. The Last Quarter Moon 
passes within 1° of Jupiter the 
morning of September 8. 

The planet puts on a show 
for those who view it through 
a telescope. Jupiter's equatorial 
diameter grows 10 percent this 
month, from 39" to 43", as it 
approaches Earth. The gas 
giant's dynamic atmosphere is 
one of the solar system's visual 
highlights, and it's on display 
every clear night. The most 
prominent features are two 
dark equatorial belts that strad- 
dle a brighter zone and the 
Great Red Spot, which now 
appears a subtle pink. Under 
good conditions, a series of 
alternating belts and zones 

appears. Experienced observers 
patiently watch Jupiter over 
many minutes to catch occa- 
sional moments of great seeing, 
when fine details pop into view. 

You need no experience 
to marvel at the planet's four 
bright moons: Io, Europa, 
Ganymede, and Callisto. Their 
orbits carry them into different 
configurations each night and 
often from one hour to the 
next. Use the diagram at the 
bottom of page 40 to identify 
each moon. 

Dazzling Venus rises around 
3 a.m. local daylight time dur- 
ing September. It appears 
among the background stars 
of eastern Gemini on the 1st, 
some 9° south of lst-magnitude 
Pollux. At magnitude -4.3, the 
planet outshines the star by 
more than 100 times. 

Venus crosses into the decid- 
edly fainter constellation Cancer 
on September 4. But a stunning 
alignment awaits observers Sep- 
tember 12. That morning, a 
waning crescent Moon stands 
4° southwest of Venus while the 
planet lies 3° southwest of the 
Beehive star cluster (M44). The 
scene should be nice with naked 
eyes, but binoculars will deliver 
the best views. On the next two 



• . 

• • • ..•—••■-•.. • 


. . \ ' -M44 . . • ••• 



• • , • • • ' ' 2 


. E '* • 6 ft Venus 

• • 

. * • 



• m 

• * • 

• • 


• • • ... 







. / 

• • 1 

September 1 2, 6 A.M. EDT . . 


. moon 

Venus meets the swarm of stars known as the Beehive Cluster (M44) 
in mid-September. Binoculars deliver great views, particularly when a 
waning crescent Moon joins the scene on the 1 2th. Asoonomy. Roen Keiiy 

mornings, Venus passes 2.5° 
south of the Beehive. The planet 
spends September's final week 
in western Leo, not far from 
lst-magnitude Regulus. 

To see Venus well through 
a telescope, wait until twilight 
begins, which reduces the con- 
trast between planet and sky. 
During September, Venus' disk 
shrinks from 20" to 16" across 
while its phase waxes from 58 
to 70 percent lit. 

The autumnal equinox 
occurs at 10:49 a.m. EDT Sep- 
tember 22. As Earth orbits our 
star, the Sun wanders against a 
backdrop of invisible constella- 
tions. It lies in Virgo at the equi- 
nox, at the precise point where 
the ecliptic crosses the celestial 
equator. This brings nearly equal 
portions of day and night to 
most places on Earth except at 
the poles, where the Sun takes all 
day to circle the horizon. « 43 

Singularity census 



Black holes are the most astounding objects in 
the universe. And at least 19 of them lurk within 

the Milky Way. by Richard Talcott 


ntil Swiss astronomers 
Michel Mayor and 
Didier Queloz discov- 
ered the first planet 
orbiting a Sun-like 
star in 1995, scientists 
faced a dilemma: They thought such 
planets should be common, but they 
had no proof. Fast-forward 17 years 
and the verdict is in — the number 
of confirmed exoplanets now totals 
several hundred and should pass the 
1 ,000 mark in the next year or two. 

44 Astronomy- September 2012 

The discovery of black holes fol- 
lowed a similar trajectory. By the 
early 1990s, most astronomers sus- 
pected these bizarre objects existed, 
but confirmation was hard to come 
by. Scientists like to say that extraor- 
dinary claims require extraordinary 
proof, and things don't get much 
more astonishing than black holes. 
These bodies possess a gravitational 
pull so powerful that nothing, not 
even light, can escape their clutches. 
Information about what happens 

inside a black hole can never leave 
— a cosmic equivalent to Las Vegas. 
Fortunately, the suburbs of Vegas 
are more forgiving. Material in a 
black hole's vicinity suffers conspicu- 
ously from the intense gravity. Way- 
ward stars move abnormally fast, and 
gas becomes superheated and radi- 
ates copious amounts of light. 
Astronomers confirm a black hole's 
existence when they see these signa- 
tures and can eliminate all other pos- 
sible causes. In the past 15 years or 

The black hole in Cygnus X-1 rips material from its supergiant companion in th 
artist's concept. Most of the captured gas forms a broad, million-degree accretio 
disk, but magnetic fields channel some of it into high-speed jets. NASA/cxc/M.wei SS 

so, the tally of black holes in our gal- 
axy has reached 19 — 18 reside in 
X-ray-emitting binary star systems, 
and one lurks in the Milky Way's 
core. But many more likely remain 
beyond astronomers' current reach. 

From Newton to Einstein 

In the late 1 700s, British professor 
John Michell and French astronomer 
and mathematician Pierre-Simon 
Laplace advanced the idea of what 
Laplace called "dark bodies." Using 

Isaac Newton's concepts of light 
and gravity, they reasoned that the 
gravitational pull of a massive star 
could be large enough to prevent 
light from escaping. 

Unfortunately, Newton's theory 
could not describe what happens 
when gravity grows this strong. That 
understanding wouldn't come until 
Albert Einstein developed his general 
theory of relativity in the 1910s. Rela- 
tivity, which treats gravity as a distor- 
tion of space-time, allows physicists 


to describe black holes in gory detail. 
Still, it took decades before most sci- 
entists considered these objects more 
than theoretical curiosities. 

The reality of black holes began to 
emerge once astronomers understood 
how massive stars die. If a star begins 
life with more than about eight times 
the Sun's mass, it will not experience 
a quiet demise. When such a star 
exhausts its nuclear fuel, its core col- 
lapses. This triggers a shock wave 
that destroys the rest of the star in a 45 

The relatively nearby black hole Cygnus X-1 has a 9th-magnitude blue supergiant 
companion that shines brightly enough to show up through amateur telescopes. You 
can find it 0.4° east-northeast of the 4th-magnitude star Eta (n.) Cygni. Astronomy. Roen Keiiy 

Track down a black hole 

By definition, black holes give off no light. This makes the idea of trying to see one sound a 
bit challenging. Fortunately, black holes don't always live in isolation, and one of the most 
famous — Cygnus X-1 — has a partner that shows up through any backyard instrument. 

Cygnus X-1 's stellar companion is a blue supergiant cataloged as SAO 691 81 . This star 
shines at magnitude 8.9 in the central regions of the constellation Cygnus the Swan, which 
passes nearly overhead on September evenings for observers at mid-northern latitudes. 

Use the circular StarDome map at the center of this issue to locate Cygnus. Next, home 
in on Eta (r\) Cygni, a 4th-magnitude star that lies 13° southwest of the Swan's luminary, 
1 st-magnitude Deneb. Scan 0.4° east-northeast of Eta to find SAO 691 81 . It's the middle 
object in a line of three equally bright stars. When you spot it, you won't be seeing light 
from the black hole, but it will be literally from the next closest thing. — R. T. 

brilliant supernova that can shine with the 
light of 10 billion Suns. In most cases, the 
core left behind weighs between 1.4 and 3 
solar masses and has been crushed into a 
sphere the size of a major city. A single 
teaspoonful of this so-called neutron star 
would weigh close to a trillion tons. 

Yet even this exotic end state pales in 
comparison with what happens to the 

Richard Talcott is an Astronomy senior 
editor and author of Teach Yourself Visual ly 
Astronomy (Wiley Publishing, 2008). 

rarest of stars that start life with more than 
30 solar masses. In 1939, physicists J. Rob- 
ert Oppenheimer and Hartland Snyder 
showed that when such a star dies, its col- 
lapsed core (which weighs more than three 
Suns) is too heavy to settle down as a neu- 
tron star. It creates a region of space-time 
cut off from the rest of the universe because 
no light can ever escape. Thirty years later, 
physicist lohn Wheeler coined the descrip- 
tive term black holes for these objects. 

Black holes possess only three charac- 
teristics: mass, spin, and charge. All other 

Cygnus X-1 radiates strongly in X-rays because 
the temperature in the black hole's accretion 
disk surpasses 1 million degrees. The Chandra 
X-ray Observatory captured this glow during a 
16-hour observation, nasa/cxosao 

SS 433 contains a normal star orbiting a compact 
object, which is surrounded by an accretion disk 
that feeds two radio-emitting jets. Astronomers 
don't know if the compact object is a neutron 

Star Or a black hole. AmyMioduszewski,etal.(NRAO/AUI/NSF) 

properties of the collapsing star are lost. 
And because stars rarely have any excess 
positive or negative charge, mass and spin 
describe most black holes. 

A key feature of a black hole is its "event 
horizon" — the radius at which a beam of 
light would just fail to escape. Any event 
that takes place within this horizon can 
never be glimpsed from outside. For a non- 
spinning, 10-solar-mass black hole, the 
event horizon spans approximately 37 miles 
(60 kilometers). Double the mass, and the 
diameter also doubles. A black hole spin- 
ning at the maximum possible rate has a 
diameter half that of a nonrotating one 
with the same mass. 

The galaxy's black holes 

Because telescopes cannot see inside the 
event horizon, astronomers must search for 
a black hole's impact on its immediate sur- 
roundings. Some binary star systems offer 
a perfect environment. The massive stars 
that create black holes evolve quickly, typi- 
cally running through their nuclear fuel in 
a few million years. 

After the star explodes (the companion 
usually survives), the black hole's intense 

46 Astronomy- September 2012 

gravity may pull material from its neigh- 
bors outer layers. This gas falls toward the 
black hole and forms an accretion disk that 
swirls around the invisible object like water 
circling a drain. As the material moves ever 
faster, friction among the atoms heats it to 
millions of degrees. Gas at this temperature 
emits lots of X-rays, which Earth-orbiting 
observatories can detect. 

So, to detect a black hole, astronomers 
look for an X-ray-emitting binary system 
comprising one normal star and an invis- 
ible but massive companion. Lots of these 
objects exist in the Milky Way, but not all 
contain black holes. Neutron stars in a 
binary can produce the same behavior, and 
because they radiate little light, they can't 
be detected across large distances. 

To differentiate between the two possi- 
bilities, astronomers need to pin down the 
compact objects mass. General relativity 
says that a stable neutron star can't weigh 
more than three Suns. Any invisible com- 
panion bigger than that must be a black 
hole — assuming, as almost every scientist 
does, that relativity accurately describes 
such strong gravitational fields. To find the 
object's mass, astronomers must measure 
the binary system's orbit precisely. 

Ronald Remillard of the Massachusetts 
Institute of Technology in Cambridge 
and Jeffrey McClintock of the Harvard- 
Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (also 
in Cambridge) have compiled the most up- 
to-date list of black holes in binary systems. 
Our galaxy contains 18; their locations and 
properties appear on page 49. 

But this list likely forms only the tip of 
the iceberg. Remillard and McClintock 
count 20 more binary systems that show 
similar X-ray signatures but have no 
detailed orbital information to provide 
masses. (Astronomers haven't even seen an 
optical counterpart in most of them.) And 
nearly every scientist suspects far greater 
numbers of black holes exist either alone in 
space or in more widely separated binaries 
that don't emit X-rays. Astronomers esti- 
mate that the Milky Way holds between 
100 million and 1 billion black holes. 

The Swan's song 

The most famous stellar-mass black hole is 
Cygnus X- 1 (its designation signifies it as 
the first X-ray source discovered in Cygnus 
the Swan), which lies some 6,100 light- 
years from Earth. It is the only one in a 
high-mass X-ray binary system — its 

Globular cluster Ml 5 may harbor a nearly 1 ,000-solar-mass black hole. Scientists continue to argue 
if Ml 5 and other globulars contain intermediate-mass black holes. NA$A/ESA/rhe Hubble Heritage Team istsci/aurai 

Eighteen of the galaxy's 19 known black holes weigh between three and about 15 times the Sun's 
mass but have diameters the size of a small state. If intermediate-mass black holes exist, they would 
extend a few Earth diameters. The central supermassive black hole spans 17 Suns. Astronomy. Roen Keiiy 

companion star is a blue supergiant that 
tips the scales at approximately 19 solar 
masses. In fact, this luminous companion 
shines brightly enough that it appears in 
our sky as a 9th-magnitude star visible 
through amateur telescopes (see "Track 
down a black hole" on page 46). 

The black hole in Cygnus X- 1 weighs 
close to 15 solar masses, which makes it 
the heaviest one known in a binary system. 

The two objects orbit each other once 
every 5.6 days at an average distance about 
half that between the Sun and Mercury. As 
matter in the accretion disk falls toward 
the black hole, magnetic fields channel 
some of it into a pair of high-speed jets 
that emerge perpendicular to the disk. 
Recent observations show that the black 
hole rotates at more than 90 percent of the 
theoretical maximum. 47 

The Milky Way's core contains a black hole weighing some 4 million solar masses. This supermassive 
object, dubbed Sagittarius A*, glows at radio wavelengths (seen here) and in X-rays but disappears in 
visible light because so much dust lies between Earth and the galactic center, nrao/aui/nsf 

The other 17 stellar-mass black holes 
reside in low-mass X-ray binaries. Most of 
their companion stars have masses similar 
to or somewhat smaller than the Sun. Still, 
a few of these objects stand out. Astrono- 
mers estimate the mass of GRS 1915+105 
(a designation that comes from the Russian 
Granat satellite and the object's sky coordi- 
nates) in Aquila at 14 Suns, but with an 
uncertainty of 4 solar masses, it could be 
the heavyweight champ. This object also 
spews jets that appear to travel faster than 
the speed of light — an optical illusion that 
arises because the jets move at about 90 
percent light-speed toward Earth. It marked 
the first time scientists had seen such 
superluminal motion within our galaxy. 

Meanwhile, GX 339-4 lies in the south- 
ern constellation Ara and experiences fre- 
quent X-ray outbursts followed by periods 
when its emission decreases, but never so 
far as to let its companion star shine 
through. It's the only binary black hole 
whose companion still eludes detection. 

Just because a binary system behaves 
oddly doesn't mean it possesses a black 
hole, though. Few objects in the galaxy 
sport the peculiarities of the high-mass 
X-ray binary SS 433, which lies inside a 
10,000-year-old supernova remnant called 
W50. The explosion that created this glow- 
ing remnant gave birth to a compact object 
that now steals material from a massive 
companion star. The gas forms an accretion 
disk that powers two jets beaming in oppo- 
site directions like a pair of rotating light- 
house beacons. Many astronomers think 
SS 433's compact object is a black hole, but 
they can't rule out a neutron star. 

Black holes in globulars? 

The biggest stellar-mass black holes in our 
galaxy appear to top out at about 15 to 20 
times the Sun's mass. Yet a number of scien- 
tists think much larger ones exist in some of 
the galaxy's 150 or so globular star clusters. 
Star-sized black holes likely formed in these 
clusters early in their histories, more than 

10 billion years ago, and fairly quickly sunk 
to the center. But what happened to these 
black holes? Some theorists think that they 
merged with other black holes or neutron 
stars and grew much bigger, while others 
suspect that they encountered other stars 
that then ejected them from the cluster. 

Thomas Maccarone of the University of 
Southampton in England and his colleagues 
reported in 2007 on the best candidate for 
a black hole in any globular cluster. They 
found an X-ray source in a globular circling 
the giant elliptical galaxy M49, located 
some 50 million light-years away in the 
Virgo cluster. The object emits far too many 
X-rays to be a neutron star and so must be 
an accreting black hole. Its mass exceeds 20 
Suns but could be much higher. 

The case for black holes in our galaxy's 
globulars is more tenuous. Unless a black 
hole actively feeds on material from 
another star, it won't have an accretion disk 
that glows in X-rays. The best alternative 
method is to look at the brightnesses and 
motions of the stars near a cluster's center. 

Several research teams have examined 
the Milky Way's largest globular, Omega 
Centauri, to do just that. In 2008, a group 
led by Eva Noyola of the Max Planck Insti- 
tute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany 
reported a black hole weighing 40,000 solar 
masses. Just two years later, however, Jay 
Anderson and Roeland P. van der Marel of 
the Space Telescope Science Institute in Bal- 
timore, Maryland, found no evidence for a 
black hole of that size. At this stage, neither 
side seems to be winning the debate. 

A similar argument rages over the rela- 
tively nearby globular M15 in Pegasus. 
Some researchers claim the presence of 
an intermediate-mass black hole weighing 
about 4,000 Suns, while others find no such 
evidence. Earlier this year, Jay Strader of the 
Harvard -Smithsonian Center for Astro- 
physics and his colleagues announced that 
new observations show Ml 5 can't have a 
black hole larger than 980 solar masses. 

The beast in the middle 

While strong evidence for intermediate- 
mass black holes is lacking, the same can't 
be said for their big brothers. Astronomers 
have found compelling signs for a supermas- 
sive black hole in the center of almost every 
large galaxy they have scrutinized, and the 
Milky Way is no exception. The core of our 
galaxy harbors an object called Sagittarius 
A* (pronounced A-star) — a black hole 

48 Astronomy- September 2012 

The Milky Way's 
19 black holes 


• . • *. 

®: • • / 




." » * ' • ' . . 


■ • . . ._ 





.. GRUS* * 
•. • 

* • ** 
• • •' 

Black holes abound 
in our galaxy, particularly in 
the densely populated regions of its 
plane. In this all-sky view, the plane runs 
horizontally through the map's center. The numbers 
correspond to their order in the table below. Astronomy. Ro*nK««y 

Type Mass 

Low-mass X-ray binary 4 

Low-mass X-ray binary 1 1 

Low-mass X-ray binary 4 

Low-mass X-ray binary 7 

Low-mass X-ray binary 7 

Low-mass X-ray binary 7 

Low-mass X-ray binary 9 

Low-mass X-ray binary 10 

Low-mass X-ray binary 4 

Low-mass X-ray binary 6 

Low-mass X-ray binary at least 6 

Low-mass X-ray binary 7 

Supermassive 4 million 

Low-mass X-ray binary 7 

Low-mass X-ray binary 5 

Low-mass X-ray binary 14 

High-mass X-ray binary 15 

Low-mass X-ray binary 7 

Low-mass X-ray binary 12 

R.A. = Right ascension (2000.0); Dec. = Declination (2000.0); Spectral type and Magnitude are for the black hole's companion star; Period is the orbital period of binary systems in hours; 
Distance is estimated in light-years; Mass is approximated in solar masses 






Spectral type 








32° 54' 
















GRS 1009-45 


-45° 05' 







XTEJ1 11 8+480 


48° 02' 

Ursa Major 






GRS 1124-684 









GS 1354-64 


-64° 44' 







4U 1543-475 


-47° 40' 









-56° 29' 







XTE J 1650-500 


-49° 58' 









-39° 51' 







GX 339-4 











-25° 05' 







Sagittarius A* 


-29" 00' 







V4641 Sagittarii 


-25° 24' 







XTE J 1859+226 


22° 39' 







GRS 1915+105 









Cygnus X-1 


35° 12' 


09.7 lab 





GS 2000+251 


25° 14' 















with about 4 million times the Sun's mass. 
It's the 19th confirmed black hole in the 
Milky Way, and it sits dead in the center. 

The evidence takes several forms. First, 
intense radio waves and X-rays flow from 
an accretion disk that spans a region no 
bigger than our solar system. But the proof 
comes from careful tracking of the motions 
of stars as they orbit the central mass. It's 
the same method astronomers use to hunt 
for globular cluster black holes, but the 
huge size of the object in the Milky Way's 
heart makes these motions far easier to see. 
Analyzing the stellar orbits leads directly to 
the black hole's mass. 

The count of black holes in our galaxy 
likely will continue to grow in the years 
ahead, but it never will outpace the flood 
of planet discoveries. The ability to find 
planets has reached the stage where it's sur- 
prising when a week goes by without a new 
detection. Black holes hide their identities 
much better, either behind the cloak of an 
event horizon or in isolation from other 
objects. Perhaps the biggest surprise in the 
study of our galaxy's black holes is that 
we've already found 19.'* 


Watch a black hole devour a star at 

The supermassive black hole at our galaxy's 
heart is not a voracious eater. This X-ray image 
reveals lobes of hot gas extending a dozen light- 
years from the black hole (Sagittarius A*) but 
only a small glow for the black hole itself. 49 

Ask Astro 

Astronomy's experts from around the globe answer your cosmic questions. 


Q 9 What is the circle that Earth's axis traces out in its 
• 26,000-year precession cycle? What bright stars 

would be close to it? — Tim Boyle, Nishinomiya, Japan 

A 9 As Earth orbits the Sun, it also spins about its axis in 
• just less than 24 hours. Our planet exhibits other 
motions as well — the most dramatic of them is known 
as precession. You can see precession every time you 
spin a top. As the top begins to slow, it also starts to 
wobble on its axis. A gyroscope does exactly the same 
thing, and so does Earth. As a result, a line extending 
from Earth's North Pole slowly traces a large circle 
around the sky. It takes about 26,000 years to complete 
one precessional cycle. 

In 1000 B.C., ancient mariners such as the Phoenicians 
had no convenient pole star to use for navigation. In the 
5,000 to 6,000 years of recorded human history, Polaris 
(Alpha [a] Ursae Minoris) is a relative newcomer to the 
job of pole marker. 

The sides of the great pyramids of Egypt align with the four 
cardinal directions. In the 19th century, explorers discovered a 
small shaft in the largest pyramid that pointed to the North 
Celestial Pole. Four thousand years ago, Egyptian astrono- 
mers were using the star Thuban (Alpha Draconis) as their 
pole Star. As the centuries crept by, Thuban appeared to drift 
away from the North Celestial Pole. Although it was never as 
close to the Celestial Pole as Thuban, Kochab (Beta [p] 
Ursae Minoris) served as the North Star around 2000 B.C. 
At the height of the Roman Empire, there was no conspicuous 

Earth's spin axis precesses and 

traces out a circle over about 
26,000 years. The brightest star 
nearest the North Celestial Pole is 
known as the North Star. Because 
the axis points in a different 
direction over time, the identity of 
the "North Star" also changes. 

North Star. Ancient travelers and seafarers had to use other 
methods to determine the direction north. 

About 1,000 years ago, people began using Polaris as 
a standard for navigation. Alas, Polaris too will slip away 
from the Celestial Pole. In 14,000 years, the brilliant star 
Vega (Alpha Lyrae) will replace it. Vega is much brighter 
than Polaris, but it will never come as close to the Celestial Pole 
as the current North Star. At its best, Vega will be almost 10 
Moon diameters away from that specific spot in the Northern 
Hemisphere. — Raymond Shubinski, Contributing Editor 


Q # How deep are the craters on the 
• Moon? — Patricia Zavahir, Colombo, Sri Lanka 

A 9 When the Sun is low on the lunar 
• horizon, impact craters appear from 
Earth as dramatic, deep pits with uplifted, 
rugged rims. Although this appearance is 
slightly deceiving, lunar craters are quite 
prominent depressions. Planetary scientists 
usually define the depth of an impact cra- 
ter as the distance from the crater rim to 
the crater floor. Well-preserved large 
craters like Tycho (about 53 miles [85 

kilometers] across), Copernicus (58 
miles [93km] wide), and Aristarchus (25 
miles [41km] in diameter) have rim-to- 
floor depths of about 1 5,700 feet 
(4,800 meters), 12,500 feet (3,800m), 
and 9,800 (3,000m), respectively. If 
Denali (Mount McKinley) in Alaska, the 
highest mountain in North America mea- 
sured from the base to the peak, were placed 
on the floor of Tycho, its highest point 
would rise slightly above the crater's rim. 

In relative terms, however, these large 
so-called "complex" craters are sur- 
prisingly shallow features. Their 

depths are only a small fraction, about 
Vis to V25, of their diameters. So these 
"deep pits" are actually shallower than 
dinner plates. 

In contrast, fresh craters smaller 
than about 9 to 12.5 miles (15 to 20km) 
in diameter have much higher depth- 
to-diameter ratios. A good example of 
these simple lunar craters is Linne. It has a 
diameter of 1.3 miles (2.2km) and a depth 
of 1,800 feet (550m) — about the same as 
the Statue of Liberty placed on top of the 
Empire State Building. To compare with the 
best example on Earth, Linne is about twice 

50 Astronomy- September 2012 



laager 7'. 

the diameter of Barringer Meteorite Crater 
in Arizona, but almost three times as deep. 
Linnes depth-to-diameter ratio (V4) is 
similar to that of a soup bowl. 

Because the Moon's diameter is 
small, its surface is highly 
curved, which makes the 
horizon extremely 
close. This further 
enhances the apparent 2 o 
flatness of larger craters 
to someone on the lunar 
surface. (If a visitor were 
6.5 feet [2m] tall, the 
lunar horizon would be 10 
only about 1.6 miles 
[2.6km] away.) The 
Moon's curvature "sinks" 
the rims of larger craters 
beyond the horizon. A o 

structure would need to 
rise very tall and be very 
close for it to look high. — Teemu 
Ohman, Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston, Texas 


Q # Would it be possible to send a 
• probe vertically above the solar 
system's plane to observe the entire 
solar system and capture a mosaic 
photo? How far would it need to go to 
get a complete photo of everything? 
— Ken Warner, San Bernardino, California 

A # Yes, this is possible. There are 
• many ways to get out of the solar sys- 
tem's plane (called the ecliptic plane), but 
until an unusually large propulsion system 
is available, a flyby of Jupiter or Saturn is 
the best way to do it. The European/NASA 
Ulysses mission (launched in 1990) used a 
flyby of Jupiter to reach a six-year period in 
an orbit over the Sun's north and south 
poles. However, to reach large distances 
above or below the ecliptic plane, the best 
way to gain orbital velocity is via a flyby of 
Jupiter and then a flyby of Saturn to throw 
the spacecraft out of the ecliptic plane. The 
Voyager 1 trajectory illustrates this tech- 
nique (see image at upper right). 

Voyager 1 launched September 5, 1977, 
on a direct 546-day trajectory between 
Earth and Jupiter. The Jupiter flyby placed 
the craft on a 618-day path to Saturn, and 
the Saturn flyby threw the craft out of the 
ecliptic plane on an escape trajectory. 
More than 12 years after launch, with the 

altered path 

Flyby of Jupiter 

Flyby of ' 


craft 40 astronomical units (AU, where 
1 AU is the average Sun-Earth distance) 
from the Sun, engineers pointed Voyager 
l's camera system back at the solar system. 
From a position 22 AU above the ecliptic 
plane, the craft recorded some impressive 
images, including the famous "pale blue 
dot" photo of Earth. Voyager l's Saturn 
encounter could have been modified such 
that the final Voyager orbit would have 
passed over the poles of the Sun with an 
orbital period of 181 years. 

A typical planetary camera captures a 
4° or 5° field. To get the entire solar sys- 
tem in one field of view would mean 
the craft would have to be 90° to the 
ecliptic plane with a 75° field of view; 
this would take 31 years after its Saturn 
encounter (provided it follows a modi- 
fied Voyager 1 trajectory). At the point 
when the craft is 90° to the plane, it 
would be 38.4 AU above it. —John D.Ander- 
son, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (retired), Pasadena, California 


Q # When will Comet Halley next 
• pass near Earth? Are there any 
other comets that will come close 
enough to our planet that people in 
the United States can see it at night? 
— James Morris, Stockton, California 

While Voyager l's mission 

has been to explore the outer 
solar system, researchers 
could tweak a similar flight 
path to launch a satellite 
above the ecliptic plane to 
image the solar system. In this 
graphic, the planets appear at 
the same positions they were 
in when engineers turned on 
the Voyager Imaging Science 
Subsystem for the last time, 
more than 1 2 years into its 
mission. The yellow curve is a 
possible alternative solar- 
polar trajectory on which a 
camera would capture a 
mosaic of the solar system. 

A Comet Halley will return to the 
• inner solar system in 2061. The 

world's most famous comet (officially des- 
ignated Comet lP/Halley because it was the 
first such object astronomers determined to 
be periodic) revolves around the Sun once 
every 75.3 years and last appeared in Earth's 
vicinity in early 1986. It currently lies more 
distant from the Sun than Neptune and 
Pluto and is nearing the far point of its 
orbit, which it will reach in 2023. 

We probably won't have to wait 
half a century to see another bright 
comet. Unfortunately, astronomers 
can't tell us when the next great one 
will appear. Halley is the only short- 
period comet that regularly becomes bright 
enough to be obvious with unaided eyes. 
The most spectacular of these dust-rich 
balls of frozen gas are making their initial 
trips through the inner solar system. As 
their ices are exposed to intense sunlight 
for the first time, they erupt with activity 
and often grow long tails. 

The list of dazzling newcomers since 
Halley last appeared in Earth's sky includes 
C/1995 01 (Hale-Bopp), C/1996 B2 (Hya- 
kutake), and C/2006 PI (McNaught). Over 
the past few centuries, Earth has averaged 
roughly one bright comet every decade. So, 
expect to see at least a few more before Hal- 
ley makes its next foray into the inner solar 
system — we just can't tell you when they 
will arrive. — Richard Talcott, Senior Editor 

Send your questions via email to: askastro@; or write to Ask Astro, P. O. Box 
1612, Waukesha, Wl 53187. Be sure to tell us 
your full name and where you live. Unfortunately, 
we cannot answer all questions submitted. 51 













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You should observe 
the Full Moon! 

Mountains and lava plains, rays, and a hint of color invite 
exploring a bright Moon, by Michael E. Bakich 

Observer 1: "It's clear. Let's set up the scope." 
Observer 2: "Nah. It's Full Moon." 
Observer 1 : "So, we'll look at the Moon." 
Observer 2: "Are you nuts?" 

I'm betting that if you haven't had this 
conversation, you've gone through the gist 
of it in your mind. Observe at Full Moon? 
Observe what, exactly? The Moon's intense 
light scatters through the sky, essentially 
eliminating every deep-sky object that's not 
a double star. And you certainly don't 
observe the Moon when it's Full because 
that's when the Sun lies highest in its sky on 
the part facing us, killing all details. 

Not so fast. Believe it or not, several of 
our natural satellite's features are at their 
best when its shape is roundest. That's 
because in addition to formations that cast 
shadows (like mountains and crater walls), 
the Moon also contains albedo features, 
which depend on differences in reflectivity 
and color. (Oh, yes. Luna's surface displays 
a range of subtle colors.) Albedo features 
don't cast shadows under any lighting. 

Three types of features are especially 
great to observe when Earth's nearest 
neighbor hangs like a ripe honeydew melon 
in the night sky. Remember to let the Moon 

rise as much as you can so you're looking 
through less of Earth's image-distorting 
atmosphere. Also note that if the view is 
uncomfortably bright, many manufacturers 
sell neutral density filters, which reduce the 
amount of light reaching your eyes but not 
change it in any other way. 

Explore the seas 

Early lunar observers dubbed the large, flat 
expanses visible to the eye maria (Latin for 
"seas") because they look like dark water- 
filled basins. Today we know that, rather 
than water, these large depressions contain 
vast solidified flows of lava made of basalt. 

The lava on the floors of the maria 
appears much darker than the surrounding 
highlands, which are mostly anorthosite. 
That rock contains between 90 and 100 
percent of the reflective mineral plagioclase 
feldspar. The contrast between the maria 
and the highlands is highest at Full Moon. 

While Earth basalt tops out at about 14 
percent iron, on the Moon that percentage 

Perhaps the oddest ray system on the Moon 
originates at the craters Messier and Messier A. 

can reach 22 percent. Likewise, basalt has a 
maximum of 2 percent of the mineral tita- 
nium dioxide (TiO,) on Earth, whereas 
lunar basalt can contain up to 13 percent 
TiO,. Iron and titanium are dark materials 
and contribute to the overall murky appear- 
ance of the maria. 

Furthermore, because different lava 
flows have different concentrations of these 
substances, the floors of the maria reflect 
different percentages of light. You can 
prove this to yourself by looking at the 
Moon the next time it's Full. Even your 
unaided eyes will show that some maria are 
slightly darker than others. For example, 
take a look at the three connected maria on 
the Moon's eastern side: Mare Serenitatis, 
MareTranquillitatis, and Mare Fecundita- 
tis. Each of them appears darker than either 
Mare Imbrium or Oceanus Procellarum on 
the western half. 

To see bright and dark areas within a 
single mare, point your telescope at Mare 
Serenitatis. Its center looks lighter than its 
edges. The differences in composition are 
because the two regions have different ages. 
The outer areas date from between 3.8 and 
3.85 billion years ago while the center 
region may have formed as recently as 3.2 
billion years ago. 

The Moon also features a few craters 
with ultra-dark lava-covered floors, and 
these stand out best at Full Moon. The 
prime example is Plato Crater, which 

(0- .. Michael E. Bakich is on Astronomy senior 

editorand author of 1,001 Celestial Wonders to 

Plato Crater's floor is so dark that early observers called it the "Greater Black Lake." DaveTyie 

See Before You Die (Springer, 2010). 

54 Astronomy- September 2012 

Lunar directions 

It's easy to determine the Moon's north- 
ern and southern halves because they 
correspond to those directions in our 
sky. Figuring out east and west, how- 
ever, is not so intuitive. 

In 1961, the International Astronomi- 
cal Union adopted the same system of 
directions for the Moon as that used on 
Earth. This means an observer on either 
world sees the Sun rise in the east and 
set in the west. So, when we look at the 
Moon from the Northern Hemisphere, 
the eastern half (the portion lit at First 
Quarter) is to the right and the western 
half (Last Quarter) lies to the left. 

astronomers as early as the 17th century 
referred to as the "Greater Black Lake." 

Like the maria, Plato filled with dark 
lava approximately 3.84 billion years ago. 
Other craters with dark floors are Le 
Monnier and Endymion. 

During Full Moon, compare Plato with 
Aristarchus Crater, our satellites brightest 
such feature. It appears so dazzling because 
it's young — only 450 million years old. 

When you're viewing lunar features with 
similar compositions, older ones will 
appear darker because the process of space 
weathering (by the solar wind, cosmic rays, 
and micrometeorites) has affected them 
longer. In Aristarchus' case, the material 
thrown out by the impact that formed it 
hasn't darkened much. 

Trace lunar rays 

Sometimes a dark surface covers lighter 
material. If, as has happened millions of 
times, a meteor hits the Moon, the impact 
can splash some of what's underground 
across the landscape. And the bigger the 
meteor, the longer and brighter the splash. 
Astronomers call such ejecta "rays." Most 
resemble the spokes of a wheel and extend 
for many times their crater's diameter. And 
Full Moon is the best time to view them. 

Tycho Crater has the most extensive ray 
system. Some of its spokes reach as far as 
930 miles (1,500 kilometers) from the 
impact point. Tycho and its ray system are 
so bright that you even can see them when 
only earthshine (sunlight reflected from 
Earth to the Moon's night portion) illumi- 
nates the thin crescent Moon. 

^tk ^h 




' Mare Imbrium 



Aristarchus ' 

•* , ' 



• ; 




^#— Copernicus 

Kepl r t*M 

Mare Insularum 

Messier* , / * 



1'' X/i, * 



E * 




Numerous lunar features are visible when the Moon is Full. This image corresponds to a "naked- 
eye" view with north at the top and contains all boldface features in this story, Lkk observatory 

The crater with the next most promi- 
nent rays is Copernicus. Because it formed 
810 million years ago, researchers struggled 
for decades to explain why its rays — which 
spread out for 500 miles (800km) — remain 
bright. Current theory suggests that the 
crater's impactor excavated bright highland 
material and sprayed it across the dark sur- 
face of Mare Insularum. 

Copernicus, along with Kepler Crater to 
its west and Aristarchus to Kepler's north- 
west, form a right triangle of rayed craters 
on Oceanus Procellarum that merits your 
attention. A low-power eyepiece in your 
scope reveals rays from each overlapping 
those from the other two and bright pairs 
of rays connecting all three. 

You'll find a unique ray system in Mare 
Fecunditatis associated with two small cra- 
ters — Messier and Messier A — that you 
simply must observe. Two straight, slightly 
diverging rays more than 60 miles (100km) 
long extend westward from Messier A, 
leading most observers to describe the 
scene as "comet-like." 

Here a meteor first formed Messier and 
then bounced to form Messier A. The 
oblong shapes of the craters and the direc- 
tion of the rays indicate a low impact angle. 

Look for the colors 

While it's true that the Moon doesn't dis- 
play a vivid rainbow of hues, you can use 
color filters to enhance what differences 
exist. The basalt in the maria, for example, 
appears a bit bluer than the anorthosite in 
the highlands. So, to darken the maria and 
enhance the contrast between them and the 
highlands, try a red filter. 

Note: Several manufacturers make filters 
in different shades, for example, light-red, 
medium-red, and red. Because you're 
observing the Full Moon, use the darkest 
filter. It will have the added benefit of cut- 
ting down our satellites light. 

To get slightly better views of the rays, 
try light- or medium-green or yellow filters. 
Depending on the color sensitivity of your 
eyes, one of these filters may enhance the 
contrast between the material splashed out 
when the meteor created the crater and the 
darker surface rock. 

So don't be too hasty to cross off the 
dates, as the song goes, "when the Moon 
hits your eye like a big pizza pie." To many 
amateur astronomers, that's observing! '* 


Find more lunar features to target at 55 

/:. • •. • i '•'•:• 



Astronomy's third annual 

cameras, and accessories produced in the past year, by 


t's time again to survey the amateur 
astronomy marketplace and announce 
our 2012 Astronomy Star Products 
awards. The 35 winners, listed here 
alphabetically by manufacturer, represent 
the best and most innovative pieces of astro- 
equipment to come along in recent memory 
Some are high-end, no-compromise prod- 
ucts while others are low-cost items that 
offer excellent value. 

2 Astro Dome 2400 

For Dobsonian owners, most commercial obser- 
vatory domes are impractical because of the 
height of their walls. Astro Domes, however, 
designed its models to sit on the ground, offer- 
ing unobstructed viewing from zenith to hori- 
zon. Each rotates smoothly on nylon wheels, 
while the shutter operates off a 12-volt battery. 
Sizes range from the newest 2.4-meter (7.9 feet) 
model up to 9 meters 
(29.5 feet) in 

AG Optical Newtonian astrographs 

Catering to the growing trend in fast astro- 
graphs, AG Optical offers 8-, 10-, 12.5-, 
and 16-inch Newtonian reflectors 
designed specifically with astroimag- 
ers in mind. An incorporated optical 
corrector ensures pinpoint stars over 
a 50-millimeter-wide field, large 
enough for most of today's CCD cam- 
eras. Each scope incorporates a carbon-fiber 
tube that is lightweight as well as stiff and stable 
at all temperatures. 

3 Astronomy Magazine: The Complete Collection 

How has the science and hobby of astronomy changed over the past 
nearly four decades? The best way to see for yourself is to scan back 
issues of Astronomy. And now, you can e-thumb your way through 
them all on your computer with this new compilation DVD that 
includes every issue from August 1973 (the first) right up through 

December 2010. Plus you get every issue 
from former sister publications Deep 
Sky and Telescope Making, all the maga- 
zine's special issues, and a complete his- 
tory of Astronomy magazine. 

Phil Harrington is an Astronomy contributing editor and author of Cosmic Challenge: 
The Ultimate Observing List for Amateurs (Cambridge University Press, 2010). 

4 Astronomy-Shoppe 
The DobStand 

Some of today's most popular 
telescopes are 6- to 10-inch 
Dobsonian-mounted reflectors. 
They offer great value, but 
using them can be a pain 
because of their low height. 
Enter The DobStand, a riser by 
Astronomy-Shoppe. At 20 
inches (50.8 centimeters) 
across, The DobStand 
replaces the scope's ground 
board. Simply adjust the 
three aluminum legs any- 
where between 15 and 20 
inches (38.1 and 50.8cm), 
and your telescope is 
ready to go. 

5 BinaryRiversBac/cYW£OS 

BinaryRivers' automated image-acquisition software for 
Windows operating systems takes the guesswork out of 
camera manipulation. It lets users frame, focus, and control 
the exposures of their Canon digital single-lens reflex cam- 
eras in real time all from the convenience of their computer 
screen. BackYardEOS also integrates with autoguiding soft- 
ware to automate dithering between exposures as well as to 
control ASCOM-compliant focusers. 

6 Catseye Deluxe Triplepack XLK 

Nothing ruins the view through a telescope more than improperly aligned 
optics. By design, Newtonian reflectors are especially susceptible to this 
problem because of the way the primary mirror connects to the telescope's 
tube. Recently, Catseye added a deluxe 2-inch three-tool collimation kit for 
scopes with f/ratios between f/3.5 and f/6 to its product lineup. The kit 
includes a Cheshire eyepiece, adjustable-length sight tube, two-pupil auto- 
collimator, a template and two spots for center-spotting the primary mirror, 
a bright red LED clip light, and a comprehensive set of instructions — all in 
a custom carrying case. 

7 Celestron CPC Deluxe 
800 HD 

Celestron continues to refine 
the Schmidt-Cassegrain design 
the company pioneered half a 
century ago. The CPC Deluxe 
800 HD Computerized Telescope 
features optics that produce crisp 
images edge to edge as well as the 
company's premium StarBright 
XLT coatings. Celestron's NexStar 
computer-control technology pro- 
vides fast and easy alignment and a 
40,000-object database. The re- 
designed CPC mount includes a large 
brass gear and matching stainless steel 
worm gear. Add to that All-Star polar 
alignment, which allows you to choose 
any bright star, and you have an instru- 
ment sure to stand the test of time. 

8 Celestron Nightscape CCD Camera 

It's amazing how inexpensive high-quality CCD 
cameras have become. Celestron's new Night- 
scape is a 10.7-megapixel color camera whose 
backbone is Kodak's 
KAI-10100 color 
chip. Integrated 
cooling reduces 
the level of ther- 
mal noise that 
plagues all imag- 
ing sensors. It 
also comes with 
AstroFX software 
for Windows, 
which can control 
the camera, capture 
images, and process 
the results. 57 

9 Celestron 
SkyProdigy 6 

unveiled two new 
models in its SkyProdigy 
lineup at the 2012 Con- 
sumer Electronics Show in 
Las Vegas, Nevada. Like 
previous telescopes in the 
series, the SkyProdigy 6 
Sch m idt- Cassegrain 
features the company's 
innovative StarSense 
Technology. After you 
set up the scope, a 
built-in camera com- 
pares the sky to a 
database of more 
than 4,000 objects 
and aligns the 
instrument's com- 
puterized go-to 
aiming system in 
less than three 

1 DobSTUFF Makeover kits 

Do you have a stock Dobsonian-mounted Newtonian reflector that you 
would like to improve with better 
componentry? Or maybe you've 
always wanted to make a telescope 
yourself but lack the skills or the 
woodworking tools needed for the 
job. DobSTUFF's Makeover kits 
contain what you need to turn your 
off-the-shelf telescope into a cus- 
tomized instrument that's as great to 
look at as it is to use. 

Explore Scientific 9mm 1 20° Series 
Argon-Purged Waterproof Eyepiece 

Looking for the eyepiece with the largest apparent 
field of view? You'll find it with Explore Scientific s 
9mm 2" eyepiece. Flaunting a highly corrected 120° 
apparent field, this masterpiece produces sensa- 
tional views of deep-sky objects. Every lens element 
has enhanced multilayer deposition coatings and sits 
securely in an argon-purged barrel to guard against 
fungal growth and dust intrusion. 

1 2 Explore Scientific David H. Levy Comet Hunter 

Explore Scientific's 6-inch Maksutov-Newtonian telescope delivers 
incredible sharpness across a broad field of view. Imagine 
squeezing the full length of Orion's Sword into a single eyepiece 
field with edge-to-edge pinpoint star images. That's what you 
can do when you use this scope with the included 30mm eye- 
piece. A high-quality focuser, a finder scope, and a carbon -fiber 
tube complete this impressive package. 

1 3 Farpoint Astro Armour Cases 

Astronomers love to bring their telescopes and 
cameras on vacation with them, but traveling 
with such delicate instruments can be a harrow- 
ing experience. Farpoint smooths out some of 
the bumps with its heavy-duty Astro Armour 
Cases. These rugged packages feature foam inte- 
riors that you can customize to the exact size 

and shape 
of eye- 
lars, cam- 
eras and 
even small 

14 Hands on Optics AstroTelescopes 
102mm (4") f/11 Refractor 

Traditional long-focal-length refractors are famous 
for their sharp planetary and double-star images. 
The AstroTelescopes 102mm refractor made by 
Kunming United Optics in China delivers just 
that at a remarkably low price. A dual- speed, 
fully rotatable 2" Crayford focuser; an alu- 
minum tube; and a pair of mounting 
rings all come standard. Place this 
12-pound (5.4 kilograms) scope 
on a mount of your choice, 
and you will enjoy 
great views for 

58 Astronomy -September 2012 

1 5 Hubble Optics 16" f/4.5 Premium Ultra Light 
Dobsonian System 

Many observers need to travel far 
from home in order to enjoy dark 
skies. And hauling a telescope 
with a large aperture in a small 
car can often prove daunting. 
But Hubble Optics' 16-inch 
f/4.5 Dobsonian-mounted 
Newtonian makes the 
effort much less intense. 
Fully assembled, the 
UL16 weighs only 
about 60 pounds 
(27.2 kilograms) 
thanks in part to 
its mirror, which 
incorporates the 
company's com- 
pact open-core 

1 7 JMI Telescopes ColliMotor 

Amateur astronomers dislike collimating a Newtonian reflector 
because the process usually involves running between the eyepiece at 
the front of the telescope and the mirror cell at the back. The Colli- 
Motor retrofit kit from JMI lets you adjust 
the mirror at the eyepiece with a 
hand-held controller while using 
a collimation eyepiece or 
laser. JMI makes 
the ColliMotor 
for Meade's 10- 
to 16-inch Light- 
bridge, as well as 
Orion's SkyQuest 

1 9 Meade Series 5000 HD-60 eyepieces 

Combining a 60° apparent field of view, 17mm of eye 
relief, an adjustable eyeguard, and a price tag under $80, 
Meade's new HD-60 eyepieces are a great deal. Focal 
lengths include 4.5mm, 6.5mm, 9mm, 12mm, 18mm, and 
25mm. If you must wear eyeglasses when you observe but 
cannot afford to spend exorbitant amounts on premium 
eyepieces, the HD-60 series offers an excellent choice. 

16 Innovations Foresight ONAG 

For astroimagers, guiding long exposures has 

always been a challenge. The ONAG on-axis 

guider makes that task a little easier. Inside, a 

specially coated mirror diverts light 45° through 

a side port to the imaging camera. Near-infrared 

light, however, passes through the mirror 

and then through a back 

port, where an 

autoguider sits. 

That means you 

can guide 

on objects 

within the 

same field 

of view you 

are imaging, 

including the 

target itself. 

1 8 Lunt Solar Systems LS35T 

This Hydrogen -alpha scope provides a great way 
to keep track of solar prominences and flares. 
The 1.4-inch (35mm) refractor's single-stack 
filtration system has a bandpass of less than 0.75 
angstrom, making it ideal for visual observa- 
tions. The LS35T includes a base for attachment 
to a tripod and a foam-lined case. For an extra 
$150, the deluxe version adds a Tele Vue 
Sol Searcher finder and a 
10mm eyepiece. 

- 1 *i -^ >*V' ^-'^ 59 

20 Meade LX80 Multi-Mount 

When it comes to telescope mounts, one style does 
not suit all models. An alt-azimuth mount is best for 
quick sessions while an equatorial mount is a must for 
astroimaging. Enter Meade's LX80 Multi-Mount, 
which you can configure in either mode. Both let you 
take advantage of its go-to system, which contains a 
30,000-object database. The alt-azimuth setup 
even lets you mount two telescopes with a com- 
bined weight up to 75 pounds (34 kilograms) 
at once. The LX80 Multi- Mount weighs 35 
pounds (15.9kg), and the tripod tips the 
scales at 31.5 pounds (14.3kg). An adjust- 
able stainless-steel tripod with 2-inch 
legs completes this multipurpose 


21 Meade LX800 Mount 

Astrophotography continues to evolve at a furious 
rate. Thanks to Meade's new LX800 German equatorial 
mount and its integrated StarLock system, you can now 
simply select a target from the more than 144,000-object 
library to photograph. The mount, which uses the company's 
AutoStar II go-to system, then slews to the object, locks onto it, 
and automatically corrects tracking errors without any 
external assistance. The adjustable-height tripod features 
3-inch-diameter legs. Look for the LX800 with Meade's 
10-, 12-, and 14-inch ACF catadioptric telescopes, as well 
as its 130mm apochromatic refractor. 

22 Moonglow 
Technologies All Sky Cam 

There's always a lot going on over our 
heads. To follow the action, Moon- 
glow introduced the All Sky Cam. It 
gives a full-color horizon-to-horizon 
view of either the daytime or night- 
time sky. Watch clouds and the Sun 
cross the sky during the day, and 
stars, the Moon, planets, meteors, 
and aurorae at night, all from any 
television or Windows computer 
with optional software. 

23 Optics Planet Bushnell ARES 5-inch 
Compact Truss Tube Dobsonian 

Compact Dobs, like this 
5 -inch f/5 Newtonian 
reflector made exclu- 
sively for Optics Planet 
by Bushnell, are great 
traveling compan- 
ions. To make the 
14-pound (6.4 
kilograms) ARES 
5 even more com- 
pact, it collapses to just 16 
inches (41 centimeters) long. To 
observe, just unlock and slide out 
the two truss tubes, secure them, 
and the scope is ready to go. The 
ARES 5 kit includes 10mm and 
25mm Plossl eyepieces, a red dot 
finder, and a simple alt-azimuth 
mount with rubber feet. 

24 Orion StarShoot AllSky Camera 

With its 180° fisheye lens, the StarShoot AllSky Camera can 
keep track of the sky from horizon to horizon. The com- 
pany also designed the camera to withstand all conditions, 
so it can provide clear full-sky images any time. And the 
Sun overhead won't 
cause pixels to over- 
load. The included 
video capture soft- 
ware also lets 
you display 
your sky in 
real time 
over the 
Internet, or 
you can 
take images 
to create 

60 Astronomy -September 2012 

25 Orion SteadyPix 
Adapter for iPhone 

With this adapter from Orion, you 
can couple your iPhone3G, 3GS, 
iPhone 4, or 4S to any telescope's eye- 
piece to take photos of the Moon, 
planets, and even some bright deep- 
sky objects. Then you can share your 
results nearly instantaneously by 
email or social media. The adapter 
comes with a clamp to fit eyepiece 
housings up to 1.5 inches (38 mil- 
limeters) in diameter. Orion sells a 
larger clamp separately. 

26 Quantum Scientific Imaging 
583wsg CCD camera 

QSI's top-end 583wsg camera uses 
Kodaks highly regarded 
8.3-megapixel KAF-8300 full- 
frame CCD sensor, which has 
a photoactive array of 
3326x2504 pixels. Other 
noteworthy features include 
mechanical and electronic 
shutters, a removable built- 
in filter wheel that accepts 
any standard \ l A" filter, and 
the company's Integrated 
Guider Port that picks off the 
light from a guide star in front 
of the filter. The company packs 
each camera in a Pelican case. 

27 SBIG ST-i Monochrome Planet Cam and Autoguider 

Looking for a compact CCD imager for capturing the planets? SBIG's 
ST-i model may be for you. Smaller and lighter than many stan- 
dard 1V4" eyepieces, SBIG built the ST-i around Kodak's KAI- 
340 chip, which has a 648x484 pixel array. The built-in 
electronic shutter allows exposures as short as 
0.001 -second, while the integrated mechanical shut- 
ter can be used to generate dark frames. The ST-i 
also makes a great autoguider. Its fast f/2.8 optics 
allow you to guide on faint stars. 

28 Sirius Astro Products Computer Cave 

Many amateur astronomers bring laptops telescope-side, either as an 
imaging aid or for viewing star charts. But laptop screens, even overlaid 
with red gel, put out a lot of light. And they don't like dew. Enter the 
Computer Cave, a shield that encloses your laptop, reducing the light 

pollution it 
emits and pro- 
tecting it from 
dew. Made of 
6-mil corru- 
gated plastic, 
the 24-inch by 
18 -inch by 
i ^ 18-inch (61cm 

by 46cm by 

46cm) Cave 
unfolds and 
assembles in 
seconds with 
Velcro strips. 


29 Southern Stars SkySafori 3 

"There's an app for that" certainly rings true in 
observing. One of the most popular planetarium 
apps to come along recently is SkySafari 3. Avail- 
able for iPhones, 
iPads, and iPod 
Touches using iOS 
4 or later, SkySafari 
3 has three differ- 
ent levels. The Pro 
version will show 
you up to 15.3 mil- 
lion stars, 740,00 
galaxies, and 
550,000 solar sys- 
tem objects. It also 
will control your 
go-to telescope 
using optional 
cables or Wi-Fi 
modules. 61 

30 StarmapPro 

Another popular app for iPhone and iPod Touch 
is Starmap Pro from Frances 
Fredd. Not only does the app 
display the sky at any time, 
but it also lets you zoom in 
and out on objects and offers 
go-to telescope control, event 
calendars, and a night-vision 
mode. Most fun of all, Star- 
map Pro can identify stars 
and constellations in the sky 
when installed on devices 
with a built-in compass, like 
the iPhone 3GS. Hold your 
iPhone toward the sky, and 
Starmap Pro will identify the 
stars "behind" the phone. 


31 Takahashi 

Takahashi designed its 9.8- 
inch (250mm) Mewlon-250CRS 
Corrected Dall-Kirkham reflec- 
tor with astroimaging in mind. 
Thanks to a three-element cor- 
rector lens made of extra-low 
dispersion glass, an ASCOM- 
compliant electric focuser that 
moves the secondary mirror, 
and a manual/ automatic 
three-fan cooling system, 
the Mewlon 250CRS 
produces crisp flat- 
field views of solar 
system and deep -sky 
objects alike. 



i + 

32 Teeter's Solid Tube Series 

Designed with apertures of 8 and 1 1 inches 
and with moderate focal lengths, Teeter Solid 
Tube Series (STS) Newtonian reflecting telescopes 
are great for lunar and planetary observing. They also 
provide great views of binary stars and bright deep-sky 
objects. As with Teeter's truss-tubed scopes, their STS lineup 
combines outstanding workmanship with high-quality optics 
and materials to create heirloom-quality instruments. Each 
scope comes with a Dobsonian mount. 

33 Tele Vue Delos series eyepieces 

Mention eyepieces, and Tele Vue Optics is bound to pop into the 
minds of most amateur astronomers. Each Tele Vue Delos eye- 
piece — 3.5mm, 4.5mm, 6mm, 8mm, 10mm, 12mm, 14mm, or 
17.3mm — features 20mm of eye relief and a 72° apparent field 
of view. The long eye relief means that even eyeglass-wearers get 
to enjoy the full field of view. And that field stays tack-sharp 
from edge to edge, whether you're viewing the Moon, planets, or 
your favorite deep-sky object. 

34 Vixen Artes Binoculars 

Vixen's Artes Binoculars, available in 8.5x45 and 
10.5x45 models, feature extra-low dispersion 
fully multicoated lenses, phase coating on 
their BaK-4 roof prisms, long eye relief, 
and waterproof, nitrogen-filled barrels. 
Their no-compromise design guarantees 
exceptionally sharp images of all targets, 
whether terrestrial or celestial. 

35 Vixen BT81S-A 
Binocular Telescope 

Combining a pair of 3. 1 -inch f/5.9 
refractors, Vixens BT81S-A is ideal 
for anyone who — like me — thinks 
that two eyes are better than one. 
Magnesium-fluoride-coated air- 
spaced doublet objectives snap 
images into focus, while an optional 
alt-azimuth mount and tripod keep 
those views steady and secure. 


62 Astronomy -September 2012 


Astronomy's Star Products v mfnmmmn , 




AG Optical 

Newtonian astrographs 

$6,695 to $20,195 


Astro Domes 

Astro Dome 2400 



Astronomy magazine 

Astronomy Magazine: The Complete 




The DobStand 





$30 ($38 with 
ASCOM plugin) 


Catseye Collimation 

Deluxe Triplepack XLK 

$349 to $375 



CPC Deluxe 800 HD 




Nightscape CCD Camera 




SkyProdigy 6 




Makeover kits 

$495 to $795 


Explore Scientific 

9mm 120° Series Argon-Purged 
Waterproof Eyepiece 



Explore Scientific 

David H. Levy Comet Hunter 




Astro Armour Cases 

$79.99 to $249 


Hands on Optics 

AstroTelescopes 102mm (4") f/1 1 



Hubble Optics 

1 6" f/4.5 Premium Ultra Light 
Dobsonian System 



Innovations Foresight 

ONAG on-axis guider 



JMI Telescopes 


$259 to $289 


Lunt Solar Systems 

LS35T Hydrogen-alpha telescope 

$598 to $749 


Meade Instruments 

Series 5000 HD-60 eyepieces 



Meade Instruments 

LX80 Multi-Mount 



Meade Instruments 

LX800 Mount 



Moonglow Technologies 

All Sky Cam 

$399.95 to $419.95 


Optics Planet 

Bushnell ARES 5-inch Compact 
Truss Tube Dobsonian 



Orion Telescopes and Binoculars 

StarShoot AllSky Camera 



Orion Telescopes and Binoculars 

SteadyPix Adapter for iPhone 



Quantum Scientific Imaging 

QSI 583wsg CCD camera 



Santa Barbara Instrument Group 

ST-i Monochrome Planet Cam and 



Sirius Astro Products 

Computer Cave 



Southern Stars 

SkySafari 3 

$2.99 to $59.99 



Starmap Pro 







Teeter's Telescopes 

Solid Tube Series telescopes 

$1,475 to $1,975 


Tele Vue Optics 

Delos series eyepieces 



Vixen Optics 

Artes Binoculars 

$999 to $1,099 


Vixen Optics 

BT81S-A Binocular Telescope 

$1,199 63 


by Stephen James O'Meara 

M82: The // marquee // galaxy 

An unexpected, almost electric display makes this star city an unusual target. 

It's hard to come away from a star party 
without feeling inspired, especially from 
shared experiences with others. Con- 
sider the February 2012 Winter Star Party 
(WSP) in the Florida Keys, where Vic Men- 
ard of Bradenton, Florida, shared a peculiar 
visual phenomenon associated with star- 
burst galaxy M82 in Ursa Major. If you 
sweep your eye across the galaxy's major 
axis, he said, beads of "starlight" pop in and 
out of view like "twinkle lights on a Christ- 
mas tree." The puzzle is that images of M82 
show no obvious stars projected against the 
galaxy's bright center. 

Menard first noticed the phenomenon at 
the 2010 WSP while enjoying a view of M82 
through his 22-inch f/4 Dobsonian reflector 
at 32 lx. Among the numerous tendrils of 
dust near the galaxy's eruptive center, his 
eye caught sight of a curious "dark bay with 
a solitary star near its center." Under sharper 
focus, he detected several dimmer "very 
small" stellar points nearby. 

Suddenly, these points "winked out of 
view," only to be replaced by others "ever so 
slightly peripheral" to the first ones. Men- 
ard and his companions could see any- 
where from six to a few dozen of these 
"twinkling" lights. 

At the 2012 WSP, I counted seven of 
these mysterious spots through the same 
scope at the same power. And when I let 
my eye drift about, these lights flickered in 
and out of view along the galaxy's major 
axis, like a row of chasing lights in a mar- 
quee. What was going on? 

Some of this, some of that? 

I proffer the possibility of a brightness- 
contrast illusion, coupled with flickering 
effects resulting from the shifting of averted 
vision while scanning. 

Certainly, the view of M82 through 
Menard's large and finely collimated reflec- 
tor was spectacular — a mottled mess of 
light patches and dark streaks squeezed 
into a fuzzy cigar-shaped disk that domi- 
nated the field of view. The veins of 

▲ Starburst galaxy M82 shines spectacularly in 
this Hubble Space Telescope image; spying it 
through a backyard scope, on the other hand, can 
reveal what seem like secret shimmering stars. 

► The unexpected "stars" glittering along M82's 
major axis (sketched here through a 22-inch 
scope at 321 x) may be the result of bright gas 
poking irregularly through darker dust lanes. 

darkness formed an irregular scrim 
through which mismatched patches of 
extragalactic light burned forth in a linear 
(though slightly wavy) fashion. 

The mysterious "star fire" in M82 appears 
to be glowing gas peeking through these 
dusty filaments, which may also enhance 
their contrast. "A white spot surrounded by a 
dark environment will appear brighter as the 
latter is darkened," explained Matthew Luck- 
iesh in his 1922 book, Visual Illusions: Their 
Causes, Characteristics and Applications. In 
M82's case, the light and dark regions seem 
to reinforce each other in such a way as to 
create flickering "stars" where none exist. 

The effect appears roughly linear because 
we see the enhanced spots along the major 
axis of this nearly edge-on system, like dew 
drops reflecting sunlight on a blade of grass. 
The "stars" turn on and off successively in 
brightness because we're shifting our gaze 

from averted to more direct vision, respec- 
tively, during the visual sweeps. 

In 201 1, Menard and his wife, Lynne, 
observed a similar twinkling network of 
stellar points around the star formation 
areas in the Box Galaxy (NGC 4449) in 
Canes Venatici. "Again," he said, "we've 
observed this galaxy numerous times 
before in various apertures and magnifica- 
tions, and we had never seen this." 

I'd like to know if you can detect this 
phenomenon in M82, or other galaxies, 
through smaller apertures. As always, let 
me know what you see and think at i 


Browse the "Secret Sky" archive at 

64 Astronomy- September 2012 

New Products 


See reports on 350+ products at 

Attention manufacturers: To submit a product 
for this page, email 

IW eyepiece 
Tele Vue Optics 
Chester, New York 

Tele Vue Optics' Delos EDL-03.5mm 
eyepiece has a 72° apparent field of 
view and 20mm of eye relief. The com- 
pany applies matched multicoatings to 
each optical surface. The unit weighs 
1.1 pounds (499 grams) and features an 
adjustable eyeguard system. 
Price: $370 
[t] 845.469.4551 

Camera cooler 

Orion Telescopes and Binoculars 

Watsonville, California 

Orion's DSLR Camera Cooler chills imaging sen- 
sors for Canon 1100D, 1000D, 550D, 500D, 450D, 
400D, and 350D cameras. The 51 -watt Peltier 
cooler lowers the tempera- 
ture inside in the insulated 
chamber up to 43° Fahren- 
heit below ambient. 
Price: $399.99 
[t] 800.447.1001 



Filter wheel 

Orion Telescopes 
and Binoculars 
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by Tony Hallas 

How I take pictures 

Learn from a master the step-by-step process behind creating a beautiful astroimage. 

Over the years, many people have 
asked me to detail my "work flow." 
They want to know: How do I take 
a picture? That may seem like a simple 
question, but, unfortunately, there is no 
easy answer because every image (as begin- 
ners soon discover) has its own personality. 

In a perfect world, however, I try to fol- 
low a pattern. I begin by analyzing the 
nature of my target. Does it need deep expo- 
sures to allow massive stretching (see my 
November and December 2010 columns), 
or is it a bright nebula (like the Rosette) 
where short exposures will do? This will 
dictate whether I shoot 90- or 15-minute 
exposures and whether I combine 25 or five. 

Do I shoot a separate luminance that 
I'll combine with RGB data (my typical 
procedure for a galaxy) with my 14.5-inch 
f/9 reflector, or do I simply shoot RGB 
images (like I do for most nebulae) with 
my 71mm f/5.6 refractor? Tailoring your 
equipment and imaging parameters to the 
subject matter is the first step toward 
achieving superior results. 

Once I have enough exposures, I go 
through and reject the worst. Issues like infe- 
rior seeing, bad guiding, or focus still crop 
up in some shots despite my best efforts. 

After narrowing my selection, I use 
Maxim DL version V to apply my darks and 
flats (see my September 2010 column), and 
to combine the pictures. I'm a big fan of the 
multi-iterative "SD Sigma Combine" for my 
combining, and I save the resulting 16-bit 
FITS file as a "master" file of the respective 
images. I also use Maxim DL to align and 
combine my color frames into a master 
RGB, saved in 16-bit FITS. (For more about 
this process, see my January 201 1 column.) 

From here, I use a software algorithm on 
these master files that reverses the blur 
mostly caused from poor seeing and sharp- 
ens the images. (My favorite software for this 
process, called deconvolution, is AIP4WIN.) 



■ .- 

« . ■ • • • • ■ . ■ ■'•• 
:< ■ ■ .' 

'-_ • • • \ • 

- . ■ • i 

* • 


• • • 


Browse the "Imaging the Cosmos" 
archive at 

The Triffid Nebula (M20), shown here, is 
among the brightest targets in the sky, along 
with other summer nebulae like M8 and Ml 7. 
Because of this, only short shots are necessary. 
For this image, the author took five RGB 
exposures 10 minutes in length. As always, 
knowledge of the subject matter is required to 
achieve good results. 

► M27 is a bright planetary nebula, so it 
too provides a lot of light. Nine frames of 
20-minute RGB exposures, combined with 
nine frames of 30-minute exposures of 
Hydrogen-alpha light, were all it took to 
create this image. 

Next, I bring these files back into 
Maxim DL and convert them to 16-bit 
TIFF files. The advantage of this is that I 
can compress the files linearly to fit within 
the 16-bit boundaries if necessary. 

When I am satisfied with my data reduc- 
tion, I import the files into Photoshop CS5 to 
stretch the data using "Curves." I also use 
"Levels" to reset the black point because 
"Curves" brightens the image. Once I have 
the stretched versions of the luminance and 
RGB, I use Photoshop to clean up the images. 
This might include removing satellite or 
airplane trails, adjusting color gradients, and 
dealing with any vignetting. Then, all that 
remains is the "fun" part: emphasizing the 

subtle elements of the image and using 
noise reduction to smooth it out. 

Sometimes after my first "journey" 
through the data, I realize a different 
approach would work better. With difficult 
photos, I rework the image several times, 
slowly "getting to know" the data and the 
image better. This is common — accom- 
plished imagers often realize that the best 
approach to the processing only becomes 
obvious after the first try. So don't feel dis- 
couraged if your initial attempt didn't come 
out perfect. Just go back and make it better. 

Making an A-grade image requires 
many steps. As with so much, you'll find 
that good planning will help considerably. *» 

66 Astronomy- September 2012 



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70 Astronomy- September 2012 

■ i reader 


An annular solar eclipse 
(Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi 
DSLR, Canon 17mm lens at 
f/8, ISO 200, ttso-second 
exposures, taken May 20, 
2012, from Page, Arizona) 
• Chris Schur, Payson, Arizona 

► Reflection nebula 
Sharpless 2-73 is a 

molecular cloud in the 
constellation Hercules the 
Hero. It lies nearly 400 light- 
years away and contains 
between 20 and 40 solar 
masses. (5.2-inch Takahashi 
TOA-130 apochromatic 
refractor at f/6,SBIG STL- 
11000MCCD camera, LRGB 
image with exposures of 360, 
165, 165, and 165 minutes, 
respectively) • Alistair 
Symon, Marana, Arizona 71 

r r 


o o 

The May 2012 annular solar eclipse allowed for a 
vast array of image types. Wide-field photos were 
common, as were individual shots through 
telescopes and long-focal-length lenses, as in this 
case. (Nikon D300 DSLR, 400mm Nikon lens with a 
2x extender, giving an effective focal length of 
600mm, f/8, Viso-second exposures, taken May 20, 
2012, from Monument Valley, Utah) • Ben Cooper/ 

The Double Cluster (NGC 869 and NGC 884) in Perseus is a favorite target among astroimagers, but most shots of it are close-ups. This image, however, 
shows the two open clusters in a wide field surrounded by red emission nebulosity. (Tele Vue NP-1 01 is apochromatic refractor at f/5.4, SBIG STL-1 1 000M 
CCD camera, HaLRGB image with exposures of 22, 1 .1 5, 1 , 1 , and 1.15 hours, respectively) • Fabian Neyer, Abtwil, Switzerland 

72 Astronomy- September 2012 

Send your images to: Astronomy Reader Gallery, P. 0. Box 1612, 
Waukesha, Wl 53187. Please include the date and location of the image 
and complete photo data: telescope, camera, filters, and exposures. 
Submit images by email to 

■ | reader 


Strange planetary conjunctions are a favorite of this South American 
imager. Here, the Moon, Mercury, Uranus, and the deep-red carbon star TX 
Piscium all lie in the same region of sky an hour before sunrise. At the time 
of this image, the Moon was a waning crescent that floated within the 

Circlet asterism of the constellation Pisces the Fish. (Canon 5D Mark II 
DSLR, Canon 24-1 05mm lens set at 73mm and f/4, ISO 3200, 1.6-second 
exposure, taken April 18, 2012, at 6:21 a.m. local time, from Buenos Aires, 
Argentina) • Luis Argerich, Buenos Aires, Argentina 73 

The Cosmic 

All things high, low, weird, and wonderful in astronomy and space science, by Bill Andrews 

Moon motor 

European researchers announce a ' 
new ultra-compact motor capable 
of lunar transport on just 0.1 liter of 
fuel. Has the future finally arrived? 

No thanks, money 

The Giant Magellan 

Telescope Organization 

declines an opportunity for 

National Science Foundation 

funds, despite still needing 

money to complete the 

project. How , . . brave? 

Cinematic star city 

The UK Space Agency 
refers to galaxy 
Centaurus A as a "can- 
nibalistic galaxy with 
a powerful heart," 
which sounds more 
like a movie tagline. • 

Martian microbes 

Researchers studying 36-year-old 

martian soil samples from the 

Viking missions claim they've found 

evidence of life; if so, we've finally 

figured out who saw John Carter. 

New York to Enterprise 

A space shuttles flies once more 

— sort of. Enterprise soars above 

New York while snuggly mated to 

its 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. 

Space-eye view 

Science has reached the 
point where it's easier to 
count penguins from space 
with satellites than actu- 
ally going to Antarctica. 

Pop astronomy 

Nicki Minaj finally 
drops her latest 
video, "Starships," 
rewarding the 
patience and 
• desperation 
of fans (unlike 
real starships). 

Godspeed, Geoff! 

Legendary exoplanet hunter Geoff 
Marcy decides to try his luck in another 
kind of hunt, as the next Chair in the 
Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence 
at the University of California, Berkeley. 

I British scientists reveal the 
native sounds of Venus and 
Mars, presumably after the 
planets' cellphones got hacked. 

Lunar shock 

The University 
of Chicago in 
nois announces, 
"Titanium paternity 
test fingers Earth 
as moon's sole par- 
ent." Gosh, I hope 
this isn't how the 
Moon finds out. 


Next time on CSI: 
Milky Way: the 
grisly tale of a 
"comet massacre" 
around nearby star 
Fomalhaut, courte- 
sy of the European 
Space Agency. 

Space, now 
with dinosaurs 

of the American 
Chemical Society 

suggests that 
advanced dino- 
saurs may rule M 

over other ^j 

planets. It 
didn't make 

any more 

sense in 


space secrets 

U.S. Senator 
Charles Grassley 
asks NASA about 
its alleged spilling 
of state secrets. 
Not quite the 
renewed congres- 
sional interest in 
space we were 
hoping for. 

Space blows 

NASA compares the 
behavior of superno- 
vae and black holes 
to a leaf blower; 
way to capture the 
unimaginable beauty 
and wonder of the 
cosmos, folks. 

Time travel-ish? 

The University of California, Los Angeles, 

calls its new infrared spectrometer"a 

'time machine' of sorts," which would 

be truly amazing if it were. 

Wow, space huh? 

The International Space 
Station will receive an 
addition in 2014 allow- 
ing for "low-cost access 
to space." I remember 
when that was the 
space shuttles' job. 

I havecosmophilia 

The approaching Mayan deadline 
of 201 2 occasions the sudden 
rise of the Internet's most com- 
municable disease: cosmophobia, 
the fear of astronomical events. 

74 Astronomy- September 2012 

Down to earth place ..Malms mild experience! 




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Southern Sky 

Darkness Down Under 

When I started out in astron- 
omy, it was great fun to "dis- 
cover" the planets — to learn 
which of the bright points of 
light in the sky were members 
of the solar system. I found it 
particularly exciting to identify 
elusive Mercury, which only 
appears low in the evening 
or morning sky. 

And I still find it exhilarat- 
ing to glimpse the innermost 
planet. You can enjoy the same 
thrill early this month as Mer- 
cury wraps up its best evening 
appearance of 2012. Although 
the planet reached greatest 
elongation from the Sun in 
late October, the best views 
through a telescope come as its 
distance from Earth decreases 
during the first ten days of 
November. Plan to observe 
about 45 minutes after sunset, 
when the sky has started to 
darken noticeably and Mer- 
cury still lies several degrees 
above the western horizon. 

On November 1, Mercury 
appears 7" across and half-lit. 
By the 10th, its disk spans 9" 
and reveals a 20-percent-lit 
phase. The crescent shape 
shows up nicely through mod- 
erate apertures. Mercury dis- 
appears in the twilight soon 
thereafter, passing between the 
Sun and Earth at inferior con- 
junction November 17. 

Mars has been a fixture in 
the evening sky since March. 
This month, it lies in the west 
as darkness falls, to the right 
of Scorpius the Scorpions tail. 
The Red Planet is easy to iden- 
tify because of its distinctive 
color. Compare it with 
Antares, Scorpius' brightest 
star, which lies well to Mars' 

lower left. Both shine at 1st 
magnitude and exhibit a ruddy 
hue. When viewed through a 
telescope, Mars' 4" -diameter 
disk appears featureless. 

As darkness settles in, you 
can find Jupiter rising in the 
northeast. The largest of the 
Sun's planets shines at magni- 
tude -2.8 and easily dominates 
the background stars of Taurus 
the Bull. The planet looks daz- 
zling by midevening. 

For the best view of Jupiter 
through a telescope, wait until 
it climbs reasonably high in 
the late-evening sky. The plan- 
et's disk spans 48" across its 
equator in mid-November and 
45" through the poles — a dif- 
ference that's easy to see with 
small instruments. Also look 
for two dark belts that run 
parallel to each other, one on 
either side of a brighter equa- 
torial zone. 

The remaining planets 
reside low in the predawn sky. 
Venus rises about 90 minutes 
before the Sun. The brightest 
planet shines at magnitude 
-3.9 and appears as a beacon 
low in the east. Unfortunately, 
it doesn't gain much altitude 
in the twilight sky. Like Mars, 
Venus proves to be disappoint- 
ing through a telescope. Its 
disk measures only 12" across 
and appears nearly full. 

Saturn reappears in the 
morning sky in late November. 
On the 27th, it and Venus lie 
only 0.6° apart. Venus shows 
up without a problem, but you 
might need binoculars to spot 
the ringed planet this low in 
the sky. Saturn then shines at 
magnitude 0.7, less than 2 per- 
cent as bright as Venus. 

The month's biggest high- 
light comes November 13/14, 
when the Moon passes in front 
of the Sun and creates a total 
solar eclipse. Northern 
Queensland in Australia will 
be the center of the astronomi- 
cal universe that day. Shortly 
after the Sun rises on the 14th, 
the Moon completely blocks 
the Sun from view for up to 
2 minutes and 5 seconds. See 
"2012: a historic year for solar 
eclipses" in the March issue for 
details about this event. 

A penumbral lunar eclipse 
occurs November 28. Resi- 
dents of Australia and New 
Zealand have ringside seats 
for this event, which begins at 
12hl5m Universal Time (UT) 
and peaks at 14h33m UT. At 
maximum, 92 percent of the 
Moon's diameter will lie within 
Earth's penumbral shadow, 
causing the Moon's northern 
half to darken slightly. 

The Moon occults Jupiter 
twice this month. On Novem- 
ber 2, observers in southern 
Africa have the best view. 
From Cape Town, Jupiter dis- 
appears at 0h36m UT and 
reappears at lh52m UT. Peo- 
ple in southern Africa and 
much of southern South 
America can witness the 
November 28/29 occultation. 
From Rio de Janeiro, Jupiter 
disappears at 23hl lm UT 
and reappears at Oh 14m UT. 

The starry sky 

On spring evenings, Crux the 
Southern Cross dips low in the 
sky, appearing upside down 
just above the southern hori- 
zon. In much of the Southern 
Hemisphere, Crux is a circum- 

polar constellation, which 
means that it never sets. But 
that's not true from every- 
where south of the equator. 

Gacrux, the northernmost 
of the Cross' stars, has a dec- 
lination of -57.1°. So, the 
Cross is circumpolar only 
for latitudes south of 32.9° 
south. But this won't always 
be the case. I recently pon- 
dered the question of what the 
sky will look like in the distant 
future as the position of the 
Cross changes. 

Earth's axis precesses like 
that of a spinning top. Over 
a period of approximately 
26,000 years, the axis traces 
a large circle on the sky. And, 
because the axis points toward 
the celestial poles, they also 
move with respect to the stars. 

Currently, the Southern 
Cross is heading southward. It 
will be at its most southerly 
position around the year 
5900, when Gacrux's declina- 
tion will reach -74.6°. This 
will make it circumpolar for 
latitudes south of 14.4° south, 
which includes almost all of 
Australia, Fiji, and the south- 
ern third of Brazil. 

At the opposite extreme, 
Acrux (the brightest Cross 
star) will push farthest north 
around the year 18,600, when 
it achieves a declination of 
-29.4°. This will make the 
Cross visible — at least parts 
of it at certain times — from 
the southern parts of Canada 
and Scandinavia. By then, 
however, the motions of these 
stars relative to one another 
will have changed Crux's 
appearance so it looks less 
like a cross. » 

The all-sky map shows 
how tha sky looks at: 

1 1 p.m. November 1 
10 p.m. November 15 
9 p.m. November 30 

Planets are shown 




sadV./°^v WVHD 




• . 7 

-\ 7 v x 



' **» # \ 


\ Kilt* 8 




Sirius Open cluster 

°-° © Globular cluster 

1.0 ,— , 

|_| Diffuse nebula 

3.0 -<J>- Planetary nebula 


5.0 O Galaxy 

\ \ . V 

A *DRo M £ D ^ 


lis map: This map portrays the sky as seen near 30° south 
ted inside the border are the four directions: north, south, 
id west To find stars, hold the map overhead and orient it 
) a direction label matches the direction you're facing. The 
stars above the map's horizon now 
match what's in the sky. 

Star colors: Stars' true colors depend on 

surface temperature. Hot stars glow 

blue; slightly cooler ones, white; 

intermediate stars (like the Sun), 

yellow; followed by orange 

and,ultimately, red. Fainter 

stars can't excite our eyes' 

color receptors, and so 

appear white unless 


Illustrations by 
Astronomy. Ro«n Kaity 

November 2012 

Calendar of events 

1 The Moon is at apogee (406,050 
kilometers from Earth), 15h29m UT 

2 The Moon passes 0.9° south of 
Jupiter, 1h UT 

7 Last Quarter Moon occurs at 
0h36m UT 

Mercury is stationary, 4h UT 

11 Neptune is stationary, 1 1h UT 

The Moon passes 5° south of Venus, 

1 2 The Moon passes 0.8° south of Spica, 

The Moon passes 4° south of Saturn, 

1 3 New Moon occurs at 22h08m UT; 
total solar eclipse 

14 The Moon is at perigee (357,361 
kilometers from Earth), 10h22m UT 

15 Venus passes 4° north of Spica, 

1 6 The Moon passes 4° north of Mars, 

The Moon passes 0.1° north of Pluto, 

1 7 Leonid meteor shower peaks 

Asteroid Pallas is stationary, 14h UT 

Mercury is in inferior conjunction, 

20 First Quarter Moon occurs at 

The Moon passes 6° north of 
Neptune, 22h UT 

23 The Moon passes 5° north of Uranus, 

26 Mercury is stationary, 20h UT 

27 Venus passes 0.6° south of Saturn, 

28 Full Moon occurs at 14h46m UT; 
penumbral lunar eclipse 

The Moon is at apogee (406,362 
kilometers from Earth), 19h37m UT 

29 The Moon passes 0.6° south of 
Jupiter, IhUT 


For definitions of terms, log onto 

www. Astronomy, co m/g lossa ry. 


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